Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Last night I tweeted John Lennon's "Imagine" to Betsy Devos and Steve Bannon

I've been thinking a lot about this quote by Betsy Devos, courtesy of Mother Jones:
Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, "There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education...Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God's kingdom."
Aww. She's so sweet, isn't she? She really wants to get taxpayers to pay for the indoctrination of children for her religion. Why? So she won't have to worry about her fellow Christians being persecuted by others like atheists, Muslims and maybe even Buddhists. I wrote about this fear of persecution years ago. This campaign isn't about saving other people. It's about preventing persecution of Christians. Gosh, if they weren't so incredibly vindictive against others, they might've saved themselves some trouble.

For two millennia, Christians have, at their own hands, conducted genocide and numerous lesser forms of persecution against other races and religions, all in the name of their one supreme religion, Christianity. This isn't to say that all Christians are bad people. They are not all bad. Many, perhaps even a majority of them, live and love in relative peace, wishing no harm on anyone. A few of them are my friends and they're actually pretty cool people. But God help anyone else should Christians amass absolute political and military power.

I have to say it seems quite ironic that a religion so totally dedicated to reliance upon God focuses more on believing in God without question, and following the dictates of the leaders of that religion without question. Christian pursuit of political and military power would seem an oddity then, too. This is why we engage in so many wars. Now that Congress is better than 90% Christian, with conservative Republican majorities in both houses, and a conservative Republican Administration running the show from the White House, it's time to call the "leaders" out for what they are, "jihadists", or as someone else put it, The American Taliban.

If you don't believe me, check out this article on Medium by JC Weatherby, It’s Time to Start Calling Evangelicals What They Are: The American Taliban. Here is the nugget:
Evangelicals are advocating a religious extremism that is no different from muslim extremism, which projects religious authority over all people in their domain, which limits the rights of women, controls and limits education, and enforces strict adherence to a moral code, which naturally rejects and punishes all forms of “decadence,” including; “deviant sexuality,” science, reason, and any questioning of authority. Christian fundamentalists, if given the power, will do the same things.
These people want to tell everyone else what to believe. They want to force us all to believe as they do, but at the same time, would rain hell upon anyone else who tried to do the same thing to them. I'm perfectly content with allowing others to believe what they want to believe, as long as they don't try to force me to do the same as them. Homogeneous thinking is not how humans survived for so long. It is the differences in opinion that makes humans a successful species.

The diversity and expression of human opinion is essential to human survival. Getting us all to believe in a Christian God isn't going to "save" anybody. For the leaders of our country who profess Christianity, it's about security. They want to sleep at night knowing that they'd be safe from persecution if everyone else believed as they do. That's what this is all about. It's an entirely selfish motive, and we know it because not only do they want to enforce a certain religious belief upon the rest of us, they want to keep the hierarchy, too. Funny how no one is talking about dashing that hierarchy to a trillion little pieces.

So I got on Twitter last night and did this tweet:
And this one:
I would love to see a nice million strong wave of Tweets of John Lennon's song aimed at Betsy. In his song, Lennon offers an important reminder that we're all human, we all have frailties and that we all could live in peace if we can let go of the need to get others to think like we do. He's urging us to coexist, in peace.

And then I thought about how "anti-establishment" Steve Bannon claims to be. I wonder how committed to that he really is. Would Bannon give up the hierarchy and his place in it once he's accomplished his goals? I don't think so. Absolute power is stupefyingly attractive and addictive to all humans. I sincerely doubt Bannon is an exception to this rule. So I sent him this tweet, too:
So far, no responses, no retweets, not really much of anything from that yet. I guess it's to be expected. But I've said my piece and that is enough for me. If the people in power truly believe that their actions will promote world peace, then they won't mind explaining their motives for their actions.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Note to Congress: If you're afraid of your constituents, you're probably not representing their interests

Republicans (and Democrats alike) and their viral town hall meetings are storming the news of late. Some Republicans dismiss it all as paid or organized protests. Ha, ha. And some like Marco Rubio have claimed that they aren't doing in person town halls due to their fear of hostility from their own voters.

The reports I've read of these town halls seem to provide a disturbing clue about American politics: Representatives in town halls share their views like gospel expecting the people they represent to follow. Um, I think it's supposed to be the other way around. The purpose of the town hall meeting is for elected representatives to get a sense of what the people in their district want. They are supposed to represent the interests of the people, not their own.

Cyndy A. Matthews provides some insight from a local town hall in a district in Ohio hosted by Representative Jim Jordan:
The questions about the Affordable Care Act revealed Jim Jordan's position for better or worse on health care. He stated at one point that "health care is bad for business." Business people making big profits are more important than saving lives or preventing the suffering of his fellow Americans in the representative's opinion. He also stated he did not like how his able-bodied 27 year old son had to pay higher private health insurance premiums because other people's young adult children are sometimes sicker with diseases like M.S. or cancer. It wasn't "fair" since his son is "healthy" and shouldn't have to subsidize other "non-healthy" Americans' health care.
Mr. Jordan provides the same rationale that I often see in this debate: "Look, we're all just free agents in a bag of skin. Why can't we get along without being forced to subsidize each other?" Never mind that nobody chooses to get cancer or MS. Nobody chooses to drink or shower in polluted water, either.

Matthews goes on to report how Mr. Jordan gave someone sympathetic to his views the podium and ignored the others. It would appear then, that Mr. Jordan, like many politicians of late, have mistaken a forum where all views should be given a voice, for a campaign whistle stop. It's as if he really wanted to make it all about him rather than the people he claims to represent.

The Huffington Post reports that, Rep. Marsha Blackburn [was] Besieged By Boos At Tennessee Town Hall. One member in attendance yelled out, “We are not stupid. Stop this," in response to Blackburn's praise of Betsy Devos. The article goes to describe several incidents where Blackburn is booed by her audience. As a one time comedian, I know how it feels when I bomb and I always learned something when I did, but Blackburn doesn't seem to be learning as this exchange suggests:
Pratik Dash, a Franklin High alumnus, asked the representative to comment on Trump’s statement that he wants to prioritize refugees who are Christian.
“Is it right to prioritize people based on their religion?” he asked, to applause from the crowd.
Instead of answering the question directly, Blackburn launched into a discussion of refugees and the need for more vetting, prompting Dash to ask again, “Do you think it’s right to prioritize people based on their religion? Yes or no?”
“I know that Christians have seen incredible persecution,” Blackburn replied, prompting another chorus of boos.
It is clear that representatives are trying really hard to steer the conversation to fit their own narrative rather than listening to their constituents and airing their views. The two examples above are just a few of the many that I've seen strewn across the internet. The political climate has gotten so bad for Republicans and politicians in general that even Bernie Sanders chimed in:
I think he only goes halfway in his statement. I replied and took it a bit closer to the truth:
I qualified my tweet with the word "might", but I think it's fair to say that Congressmen and women who face angry crowds at town halls must know that their constituents are angry because their interests are not being represented in Congress. It's plain to see when Republicans can claim 26% of voter registration and Democrats 30%. Both parties have done a pretty lousy job of representing America. They both gave us Trump and Clinton as choices for president last November.

Incredibly, The Atlantic has found some politicians willing to admit that the concerns brought up at town halls are real and that the crowds are not manufactured. They are acknowledging that people are taking time out of their busy lives to attend and air their fears and worries. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Congress will actually listen and act on their concerns:
Even if some GOP lawmakers adopt a sympathetic tone toward angry town hall crowds, that isn’t necessarily an indication that they’re changing course. When Cotton told the crowd on Wednesday that he wouldn’t deny Obamacare has helped people in the state of Arkansas, he quickly added it has also “hurt many Arkansans.”
Cotton seems to be misdirecting his constituents around the real problem, a problem that no one in Congress is talking about: big money in politics. Scientists have figured this out long ago, but too many people in Congress don't like scientists (they be like, "Republicans"). Harvard law professor Larry Lessig has been giving speeches with plenty of examples to choose from to be found on YouTube. I guess Congress has not taken notice of him yet, either.

People are finally waking up and noticing that Congress has been listening to big business and big money rather than their own constituents. Apparently, many members of Congress seem to think that money from big business is what keeps them in office, and that addressing the concerns of their constituents is an afterthought.

Bernie was right. If you don't have the guts to face your own constituents, you shouldn't be in Congress. He just left out the part about why that's important: if you're not representing the interests of your constituents, you shouldn't be in Congress.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

If there is a single issue emerging to unify our country, it's probably universal health care

I can recall how in the primaries last year, there were many attempts to brand Bernie Sanders as a single issue candidate. I can't recall exactly what that issue was, because whatever that issue was, it was a matter of opinion, and that was depending on the source. But one thing I can say for sure, there is a reason mainstream media wanted us to avoid single issue candidates: they can unify the American people.

Harvard law professor Larry Lessig tried this by running as a "referendum candidate" running on the single issue of restoring democracy to the American people by getting big money out of politics. Instead of finding acceptance, Lessig was roundly bounced away from the debates and ignored by the press. Lessig admitted that he had made a mistake by stating that if elected, he would hold a referendum on the Citizen Equality Act and when that was done, he'd resign as president. His cause and heart were pure, but they were deemed too toxic by and for a corrupt permanent political class and the mainstream media that supported them.

Bernie Sanders ran on the same primary issue of getting big money out of politics and lived by it on small donations averaging $27 and managed to raise more than $222 million for his presidential campaign. But he wasn't actually a single issue candidate. Another big issue he ran on was Medicare for All, the public option. That too, was just too much for a corrupt permanent political class and their benefactors in the health insurance industry.

Adding to the alarm of the health insurance industry, polls are starting to show that people across the political spectrum can get behind it once they understand how it works. Bernie is a great communicator and could explain how universal health care, or Medicare for All, could work in practice.

How do we know that there is so much support for universal health care now? In his article, Single Payer on The March, Lambert Strether of Naked Capitalism has found the numbers (courtesy of Pew Research) and has shown that universal health care has supporters across the board. He is encouraged about this trend by two events:
What encouraged me? Two things: First, Jessi Bohon’s advocacy of Medicaid for All from a Christian perspective at a Tennessee town hall; and California’s introduction of a single payer bill, with the support of National Nurses United. I’ll look at those two topics, and then turn to consideration of how the Women’s March and the Resistance Manual’s prioritize single payer as a policy issue.
The first example can be found here, on YouTube:

It's almost 3 minutes long and well worth the time to watch. This video has gone viral and keeping it going can help to bring the Christian Right along with liberals on the left together on at least this one issue. So please share the video far and wide to break the stereotype of conservative Christians not being in favor of universal health care - they are - but that is masked by a stereotype that is consistently promoted by mainstream media.

The second example Strether cites is the introduction of a universal healthcare bill in the California legislature just days ago. Strether points out that this bill would also cover undocumented citizens and that California has the economic muscle to pull it off:
In other words, the best defense against Trump is a good offense. (I view including illegal immigrants in the program pragmatically; if that’s what’s needed to secure passage, then so be it. If it’s a dealbreaker, dump it. Separately, it makes sense to get illegal immigrants into the system for vaccination, transmissible diseases, and to manage epidemics.) Of course we’re going to need to see the details, but California’s GDP is about the size of France’s, so there’s absolutely no question of scale, as there was with Vermont (and possibly Colorado).
A national issue like this can unify the vast majority of Americans because we're all affected by the high cost of health care. Granted, the universal health care proposals I've seen so far don't deal with one of the causes of the high cost of health care, namely, a shortage of qualified doctors engineered by the AMA, but universal health care is still a highly visible issue which can bring many people together, from across the political spectrum. If the shortage of doctors alone were addressed, we might not even be having a discussion about universal health care.

Note also that National Nurses United (60,000 members), a union of nurses and Physicians for a National Health Care Program (20,000 members) are on the same side of this issue. To see doctors and nurses together, on the same page is encouraging.

There is another way to bring more conservatives in to support universal health care. Present day conservatives who like to cite F.A. Hayek seem to have selective memories. Turns out that Hayek actually promoted the idea of universal health care for wealthy countries, even the warn torn UK of 1943. Unfortunately you won't hear that from modern conservatives like Hayek's biggest fan, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. But we can at least point out that a well known conservative icon has found favor with such a plan.

Recall also how Iron lady Thatcher resigned over a single issue, the poll tax. That single issue united millions of Brits in opposition to the tax, and they worked together to make the tax unenforceable and noncollectable. Universal health care may not have the galvanizing effect of an unpopular tax, but the lessons learned in the UK show us that millions of people can unite over a single issue with national effect, contrary to what we've been told during the election last year.

I want to point out one other issue of concern: target fixation and/or the law of attraction. Millions of Americans are protesting, and creating content including articles, memes and art, expressing how much they don't like or don't want Trump. I see it every day, in the news and in my social media timelines or feeds. It's all about what we don't want for many people. The problem with this mentality is that the brain doesn't really understand "no".

This is easily demonstrated with small children. If you tell a small child not to do something, like using a remote control as a hammer rather than to control the TV, they don't hear "no". If you leave the remote control within reach, the child will continue to grab it and practice the art of hammering. Even if you punish the child for touching the remote control, the child sees more punishment rather than restraint on the part of the parent.

Alternatively, if you speak in the affirmative rather than negative, you can get the child's attention and hold it. You can then direct their focus to what you want by making positive alternative suggestions. And you can keep the remote control out of the child's reach.

Adults are much the same way. When adults focus on what they don't want, they tend to get more of it. Republicans in the White House and Congress seem to understand this, so they've moved quickly on what liberals perceive to be negatives, immigration bans, noxious nomination picks, and expensive travel arrangements. Most of what we see in the news is negative in that regard and continues to distract us from what we want.

Now that we see people across the political spectrum and the country are expressing support for universal health care, we have a moment in time when we could strike. Some are calling for a general strike. In a general strike, the vision is to pick a day for millions of people to not show up to work, and to have a "buy nothing day". It is a strike across many industries and can be paralyzing to a nation, particularly for anyone who should happen to be in power. Unfortunately, most are calling for strikes or protests against something or someone they don't want, that would be Trump. An organized protest on such a massive scale is exactly the sort of thing that people like the Koch Brothers don't want to see. What if we directed all that energy towards something we want, instead?

As momentum builds, and it is building, I think it would be wise for all of us to consider the thing we want the most and make an open demand for that thing. Consider the way support is building for universal health care. There is ubiquitous organizing and focusing all of these various movements, strikes, protests and what have you, all against Trump. If we could focus all that energy and attention on just a movement for universal health care (instead of "against everything Trump"), we could conceivably break a log jam that has festered for decades. Demand for universal health care may now be at a point that is too large and widespread to ignore, even for Republicans intent on ignoring it.

Diverting our attention from something we don't want to something many of us do want, in this example, universal healthcare, resolves the issues of focusing attention and attracting what we want instead of don't want. We could just ignore Trump while he does his thing and still organize and demand universal health care. That might actually grab his attention in a positive way since such a campaign is not an attack on Trump, it's a demand for something we want. Besides, Trump and many Republicans are already thinking in "universal" terms, but they're just talking about universal access, not a single payer plan.

I sense that we need to unify around something, for something, at what seems to be a critical juncture. I am certain that all of this energy is going to come to a focus and I'd rather see it in a movement for something rather than against something. I suggest that our best shot at effecting positive change is to focus all that energy into a movement for universal health care.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why your representatives in Congress prefer fundraisers to seeing you in town hall meetings

I happened by chance to see the following headline just the other day:
Duck and cover: More than 200 Republicans in Congress are skipping February town halls with constituents
Vice News is covering the story of a rather reclusive Congress this year, and they have provided a few details including the tidbits below:
For the first two months of the new Congress, the 292 Republicans have scheduled just 88 in-person town hall events — and 35 of those sessions are for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, according to a tabulation conducted by Legistorm. In the first two months of the previous Congress in 2015, by contrast, Republicans held 222 in-person town hall events.
Isn't it interesting that at a high water mark in Republican history, they're proving not so fond of their constituents? Oh, wait. I think it's mutual. Vice News notes for the record the kind of rage that has appeared at town hall meetings lately, and as I did in this article, used Jason Chaffetz as an example. Chaffetz found himself shouted down by men and women demanding that he do his job. They didn't seem all that happy about his stances on immigration and health care, either.

Republicans have a solid majority in the US House of Representatives, and an edge in the Senate. Across the nation, they have trifectas in 25 states and majorities in one or both houses in many more. They have a majority of governor seats to boot. And now they have a trifecta at the federal level. They have the power, so where is all this fear coming from?

I think the problem is that Republican dominance in politics has come at a pittance in terms of cost (to them). They now can claim just 26% of voter registration nationwide (Democrats are just a bit higher at 30%). I'd say that's a gift, except for one thing. The voter purges, rampant Tweedism and big money in politics have all left the GOP deaf, dumb and blind to, and dissociated from their base. Sure, they have power now, but do they even know who they represent anymore? Did all that disenfranchisement really work, or did it just separate them from their base? When constituents start putting "lost" ads in the local paper, I think we can safely say that many Republicans (and Democrats) have separated themselves from their constituent base:

Vice News offers another aspect to the dynamics at play here:
But ultimately both parties are holding fewer in-person events to avoid unwanted viral moments. Senior Democratic lawmakers this week asked progressive favorite Sen. Bernie Sanders to reach out to activists and urge them to not protest at Democratic town halls, according to the Washington Post.
“I bet if you looked at the number of members of Congress holding fundraisers next week during recess, it would be nearly 100 percent,” said Ezra Levin, co-founder of the Indivisible Project. Constituents should demand that 100 percent also attend town halls, he added.
So, if they're not holding town hall meetings, they're probably busy fundraising. I guess that's because people who turn up at fundraisers have money and they have a reasonable expectation for a return on their investment. People who show up at town hall meetings are most likely not "relevant funders" in the eyes of Congress. And since town hall attendees don't usually have money to throw at their representatives, they have little reason to expect their representatives to listen to them.

When we compare voting records to the polls, we can see why there is so much hostility at the town hall meetings. Congress isn't listening to the people without money, they're listening to the other guys.

A fundraiser is a party with drinks, good food and entertainment...I mean, speeches. A town hall meeting is an adversarial confrontation with angry, hungry and tired people who've been working long weeks with little time for the family, but they sure did go out of their way to attend. I think we can guess which is more attractive to members of Congress.

I also think this is about as much as we can expect from what appears to be a permanent political class consisting of both Democrats and Republicans. They take big money from elites or organized business interests flush with cash and then they feel obligated to listen to the money over the people they claim to represent.

Here's a video with an example of what Congress is facing when they go home and host a town hall meeting, this one actually being quite civil:

At this town hall meeting, we see a room full of Christian Republicans expressing favor and support for Obamacare and even universal health care. That lady standing up even used Christian morality to bolster the argument for universal health care. Unfortunately, they're not big spenders. That video went viral and Naked Capitalism did some great analysis on the topic of universal health-care in general, and the scene captured by that video in this article, quoted in relevant part here:
The political appeal of a single-payer, universal health-care system is perhaps best outlined by Jessi Bohon, a high-school teacher who attended a raucous and often angry town hall with Republican Representative Diane Black in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, last week.
The article is well worth the read, as it's provides context for the debate and demonstrates that even conservative Republicans get behind the idea of universal health-care once it's explained in terms they understand. Jessi Bohon explained her support for universal health-care succinctly and masterfully, couching her support in the context of her religious beliefs.

Now Jessi's Congresswoman Diane Black is between a rock and a hard place. One the one hand, she needs to show that she's listening to her constituents. On the other hand...

...She has to answer to the people who paid for her last campaign and the next one.

What you see above is a screenshot I took of the output from a Chrome Plugin I use called Greenhouse. This plugin will highlight names if they're politicians. Then I can hover my mouse over the name and get their campaign finance numbers on the fly. The plugin uses data from OpenSecrets.org, an organization dedicated to following the money for any politician that they can dig up data on. Here is the OpenSecrets mission statement:
Nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy. OUR VISION is for Americans, empowered by access to clear and unbiased information about money’s role in politics and policy, to use that knowledge to strengthen our democracy. OUR MISSION is to produce and disseminate peerless data and analysis on money in politics to inform and engage Americans, champion transparency, and expose disproportionate or undue influence on public policy.
I have to wonder what would have happened in the last few elections if millions of Americans were using this application while reading about politics.

Now consider again that hard place that Representative Diane Black is in. Her conservative and Christian constituents in the Red State of Tennessee have expressed clear and overt support for universal health care. Look at again at the industry list of her financial supporters, "the relevant funders":

1. Health professionals, $121,000
2. Insurance, $119,149
3. Pharmaceuticals/Health products, $90,569

Total funding for her last campaign cycle is estimated to be $1,334,513.  The top 3 industries funding her campaign provided 24% of her funding. No matter how she votes on the issue of universal health care, someone will not be happy. Odds are, Congresswoman Black will go with the money if something like that ever came to a vote in the House.

American elites and organized business interests have the money. Most of the rest of us are busy working for and buying from those same organized business interests. They keep us busy and worried with work and issues like health insurance. Then those business and elite interests use the money we pay them for goods and services they sell, to lobby for their interests, not ours. This is why I advocate for and link to non-partisan organizations like mayday.us, represent.us and opensecrets.org.

Big money in politics transcends political parties, political orientation (liberal, conservative, etc.) and permeates nearly every level of government. We're supposed to have a representative democracy, but we can't have that when big money in politics separates representatives from the people they claim to represent.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Trump as agent provocateur and how we might point him in the right direction

Day after day, I see meme after meme depicting Trump in some unflattering way. I totally get the catharsis of the exercise. Strong feelings lead to stronger expressions of antipathy towards Trump. Just today I saw a meme depicting Trump and Pence as Beavis and Butthead. I get it. Insulting memes reflect the national angst about Trump as president. Behind every insult is fear.

While derogatory memes can be entertaining and even humorous, I find them distracting from the issues at hand. Remember, Bernie Sanders always told us that politics is about the issues, not identities. The memes that I have seen since Trump won the election are clearly a reflection of identity politics. I won't deride the great artists who make them, but I wish to remind those same people that the issues are what matter.

Here is one place where the issues matter: when Congressmen and women go home to see their constituents. From time to time, I see videos from the The Jimmy Dore Show posted in my feeds on Google+ and Facebook. They're very popular in my circles on Google+, and here is one installment of that show below:

Did you watch the video? Just look at those angry mobs all over the country confronting Congress Critters at their town hall meetings. I must admit, it was delicious to see Jason Chaffetz from Utah get a pitcher of castor oil administered to him at his own town hall meeting. He decided to cut it short when he found himself overwhelmed by the din of the citizens he claims to represent, as they shouted him down. He used to represent my district until the statehouse drew a new one for him, you know, to make sure he's re-elected and to make room for a new member of the House of Representatives.

So what about all that ire? That's just the response to the effort to repeal Obamacare, an effort which will most certainly take health insurance away from tens of millions of people who have it now, should they prevail. Seems like Republicans have become their own death panel, haven't they?

In Tennessee we get a sample of what's going on at the local level. There, members of the statehouse held a meeting to present their latest bathroom bill, only to be met by an angry mob of protesters. Naturally, they cut their meeting short because, hey, they don't have to listen to ordinary working constituents, anyway. They only care about relevant funders, just like members of Congress.

Even Schwarzenegger is back in the news. The Arnold has apparently noticed the issue of gerrymandering on the part of the Republicans and says that they could not even beat herpes in the polls. Now that's cold. Schwarzenegger, you may recall, was once a Republican governor of California ("Vote for me if you want to live"). Perhaps he too, has noticed that Republicans have only 26% of registered voters nationwide, yet dominate American politics at the state level with nearly complete control of state government in 25 states. That does seem puzzling, doesn't it? I'd call it a gift.

I guess the GOP in Congress is feeling especially brazen this year, despite all the attention they've been getting lately. They've introduced a bill to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency and scheduled that termination for December 31, 2018. They must be fairly confident that they won't have to live near any SuperFund sites. Certain industrial business elites will find that Christmas comes early this year.

The Atlantic Magazine has taken note of American institutions that are fighting back, too. The press, the judiciary and an apparently independent federal bureaucracy have all joined the perfect storm. A combination of checks on federal power have come in the form court orders, noticeable improvements in reporting the news and leaks. Lots of leaks. Loose lips lose ships, Donald.

The final incident I'd like to bring to your attention is a national movement, #adaywithoutimmigrants (Twitter). It's in the news, too. California farmers who backed Trump are beginning to notice they haven't really thought this thing through.

This nation is literally in a froth over Trump, the GOP and the policies they hope to implement. Now that the GOP has the power, and they've noticed the discontent with the policies they are so eager to implement, they're going full steam on their disenfranchisement plans, to confuse themselves even more. They're very worried that "millions of illegal votes" could derail their midterms in less than two years, so they need to move fast.

Lest you think I'm here just to thump Republicans, remember that Democrats have about 30% of voter registration nationwide. They played a part in bumping millions of voters off the rolls last year during the primaries in order to sideline Bernie Sanders. More to the point, they have ingested the big money in politics Kool-Aid just like Republicans, and so, have become beholden to big money interests. The Democrats are just as much at fault for national discontent as Republicans, and they can thank their good friend, former Congressman Tony Coehlo, for directing them to that gravy train back in the 1980s.

Trump won mostly on name recognition and the idiocy of Clinton's campaign, first against Bernie Sanders and second against their own liberal base of voters. Had the Dingaling National Committee remained a fair and impartial forum (as their bylaws require) for the nomination process, they might have had a better view of which candidate the voters really wanted. I'd say that the man filling the stadiums last year was the better pick. But with the near certainty of electing one of Boss Tweed's greatest fans as chair, Tom Perez, I doubt the DNC has actually learned their lesson just yet.

Trump's name recognition and visibility has made him the perfect agent provocateur. During the primaries last year, I saw numerous articles demonstrating Trump as exposing the GOP elite as a racist, xenophobic group of white men hungry for power. Here is one from Salon and a sample to get a sense of what I'm talking about:
Paul Ryan is angry with Donald Trump, not so much for failing to espouse conservative values, as for exposing America’s dirty little secret — white rage: that deep-seated determination to block black progress in this country. For years, conservative politicians have relied upon the cover of high-minded principles and slogans – “protecting the integrity of the ballot box,” or waging a “war on drugs” — in order to cloak their determination to restrict African Americans’ citizenship rights. The racism fueling Trump’s campaign and his followers, however, is so overt, that it is undoing decades of hard covert work by the GOP.
Can you say, "Southern Strategy"? Mind you here, I'm not talking about the entire GOP base. I know good people, men and women who have voted for Trump. Not all Trump supporters are racist, xenophobic, misogynist, and the like. They wanted change. They wanted someone who was not an insider and they did not like Hillary Clinton. Some even expressed a desire for Bernie Sanders as president, yes even some Republicans wanted to vote for Bernie Sanders.

Walk with me now on a short path of complete speculation. I'll call it a once secret hope. I believe that Trump is an agent provocateur, not in favor of the GOP or the Democrats, but against the establishment. Trump is a product of decades of voter disenfranchisement ranging from closed primaries to closed presidential debates to Tweedism on steroids, Americans have endured an unending drama of watching the people they vote for refuse to listen to them on important public policy issues. That's how we got Trump.

So I have this faint hope that Trump is an agent provocateur working hard to destroy the cozy relationship between the elected men and women who wield power and the un-elected people who want to use their enormous hoards of money to buy favors from the former. Cloaked deep inside all of this, I see this one tiny little ray of hope in all of the Trump Administration as Steve Bannon. I know, it seems hard to believe, but hear me out. The New York Times has compiled a laundry list of quotes from Bannon in a variety of contexts and the sum of all of them is pretty much the same: Bannon is opposed to the apparently permanent political class we must vote for every few years.

Despite his position, Bannon has a problem. When voter disenfranchisement reigns supreme across our land, elected representatives and political analysts lose touch with the people they claim to represent and/or know about. Even Bannon cannot see the depths of voter discontent because not all of the votes are counted.

Bannon is, from what I can see now, the closest man to Trump outside of Trump's family. Does anyone else see the irony in having Bannon there, in the White House, working in an establishment and being anti-establishment?

Trump is now the national lightning rod, probably the largest political lightning rod in the entire country, no matter what people might think of his hands. He has elicited a response from the left that cannot be estimated, it can only be anticipated. Whether he wants to be or not, witting or unwitting, he is an agent provocateur like no other in this country. I don't think I've ever seen any time in history, short of Ronald Reagan, where so much political power was vested in one man.

I can't say that I like Trump or hate him. I still have an open mind about him. He's only signed one piece of legislation as of this date, so he's just getting started. I really don't know what to make of him yet, so the best I can do is just watch what he does. Yes, he's signed some executive orders and ruffled a lot of feathers, and the press is unable to comprehend a highly placed elected official who won't take their orders.

But remember that bright spot that I was telling you about earlier with Bannon, well, I think that's something we can all agree on, left and right. We are all tired of having to support a seemingly permanent political class that will listen to the money before the constituents. Now I'm far from being a Trump supporter or even an admirer of Steve Bannon. Yet, when I look at someone who is a potential adversary, I'm always looking for common ground. Steve Bannon is anti-establishment and he's got that in spades - and he's Trump's right hand man. I think we can find a good issue to work on with him, regardless of political orientation.

Sanders was anti-establishment and I voted for him. Jill Stein was anti-establishment and I voted for her, too. I'm done with a fat and happy political class that thinks they can take money from big business (a polite term for private monopoly), and use that power against me. Note to those private monopolies: I just want to buy your products, not your politics.

The Tea Party claimed to be anti-establishment, too, and look where that got them. They've been owned by the Koch Brothers for years.

So here's what I'm thinking. We need to find one issue to rally around. Conservatives and liberals alike want change, and we know we're not going to get what we want with the current crop of Congress critters and their 97% re-election rate. What if we set aside all other issues and just focused on the issue of unseating that permanent political class and worked to prevent them from being replaced with more of the same? Think mayday.us. That aligns well with campaign finance reform, gerrymandering prevention and anti-corruption laws that have teeth.

Instead of taunting and branding Trump as an idiot, a sexist, or a surprised Putin lover, which is only going to piss him off anyway (unless he's merely an entertainer and refuses to break character), we could just zero in on this one issue. If Steve Bannon is serious, and is taken seriously, we could have an honest and open dialogue with him and Trump, about dealing with the corruption that a permanent political class breeds. To paraphrase Sanders, lets hold Trump and Bannon to their promises and statements on this one topic alone. If they change their minds about draining the swamp, let them defend their actions and their words on the air and in print.

The rest of the news about Trump is just a distraction. I believe that the central issue we need to focus on is eliminating this permanent political class. To accomplish this objective, we just might have the right man in the White House to do that, and that would be Steve Bannon. It's entirely up to us to decide if we should make him an ally or adversary to this one cause. I suggest we go with the former.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This is what happens when society teaches punishment instead of skills

A few weeks ago, I read the headlines of a story about a boys reform school in Florida. I passed by it, thinking nothing more than, "ho hum, just another sensational story." But I've been thinking about that school ever since. So did my own search instead of looking for that meme from somewhere in the depths of my Google+ feed, and here is what I found.

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, aka, "The Florida School for Boys", was opened in 1900 and was notorious for a wide range of abuses of boys that were sent there or wound up there. The first link I found was from The Smithsonian Institution, not exactly the first name in sensationalism. So I read on. I was intrigued by the picture of the crosses in the graveyard at the school at the top of the article.

I read a few more articles and the literature is fairly consistent. Over a century of operation kids were severely beaten, whipped, denied clothing and food, one may have been shot and another was put in a large clothes dryer and died later from his injuries. Scientists have found 55 graves and have matched 14 DNA samples to identify the boys buried there. They found two graveyards one for people of color and one for everyone else. This Wikipedia article has a fairly detailed history of the school with numerous sources in the bibliography. Although no one seems to have been charged with a crime at the school, it was finally closed in 2011.

From my reading so far, I think it is fair to say that it was a public school teaching morality from religion. We know this from the crosses in the picture, and the segregation of the students based on race. The roots of American racism and segregation can be found in religion, Christianity to be precise.

This article is not intended to criticize religion in general, or even the brutal discipline practices at the Florida School for Boys. That has already been done. I believe that there is a wider and deeper message we can learn from this story. Those crosses in the picture are evidence of a fact that may now be plain for all to see: you cannot teach morality without teaching the skills required to achieve it.

Those crosses in the picture tell a story of a school staff intent on beating the "evil" out of the boys who were sent there by their parents or a state agency responsible for disposition of orphans. Those crosses are evidence of the failure of reward and punishment as a method of discipline. No matter how severe the discipline, there were always some boys who would not comply, even upon risk of death.

There is another story here to consider. The addiction of abuse. The abusers who administered the punishment were addicted to the abuse. When humans engage in physical conflict, the brain sends a massive shot of adrenaline throughout the body. For the abuser, this is a huge hit, every bit as powerful as cocaine or crystal meth. This hit provides a sort of "high" much like joggers experience with endorphins from the runners high, yet far more intense in the context of violence.

I have some first hand evidence of this myself. I felt it when I was spanked by my father as a boy. I felt it when I fought the kids who used to tease me at school. I felt it the moment before I hauled off a punch to the offender in the lunch line. I was always shaken by the experience of violence and can recall those same feelings with clarity to this day.

When we engage in violence of any kind, we feel this jolt of energy from the adrenaline. Combine that jolt with authority and you have a compelling reason to do it again. And again. Regardless of the consequences.

There is a better way to teach morality. We teach the skills needed to achieve that morality. One great example is the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America. The Scouts organizations teach skills. They both teach skills about living in and respecting the natural wilderness of America. They both teach skills about getting along, working as a team and collaborating.

For adults there are 12-step organizations, the most well known being Alcoholics Anonymous. They teach the skill of not drinking, they don't just pray for the willingness to stop drinking. They don't punish people for drinking, either. They understand, probably better than any other organization, the power and the peril of addiction. They are widely regarded as the most successful organization to help people stop drinking. And they're free. They're also anarchists. No one is forced to do anything in that program. Nothing is compulsory, there are no dues to pay, and it is an entirely voluntary organization. The 12 steps are suggested, not required.

There is even Toastmasters where people can learn to overcome fear of speaking in public. I was a member of Toastmasters for years and learned to ride that fear like a wave to turn it into an asset. They teach the skill of public speaking, and the skills required to overcome the fear of speaking in public.

I'm sure there are many more organizations out there that teach skills. The point is that when we teach the skills of morality we get better results. There is a scientific organization dedicated to this effort, Lives in the Balance, headed by Dr. Ross W. Greene, PhD. Dr. Greene has 38 years of working with kids and is applying a very simple concept to challenging behavior in kids and adults: kids would do better if they could.

According to Dr. Greene, when kids exhibit challenging behavior, that's the signal, not the problem. It is evidence of lagging skills and unsolved problems. When we work with kids to solve the problems that get in their way, we also teach them the skills they need to do well. Kids want to do well, naturally. It's up to us to engage with the kids in collaboration to solve those problems the prevent them from doing well. That means it's not entirely up to kids or the parents to solve the problems. It's a partnership.

I believe that this is true of adults, too. Crime is evidence of challenging behavior in adults. When we teach adults the skills they need to adapt to their conditions, they get better. Dr. Greene's approach is being applied to detention centers for kids with very positive results. We could do the same for adults.

By now you're wondering what this all has to do with politics. Donald Trump ran as a "law and order" candidate. He wants to crack down on crime. So do many Republicans in Congress and in statehouses. Republicans in 5 states are pushing to make peaceful protest a criminal offense.

Here's the problem: putting people in jail doesn't really address why they're in the streets. As we've learned from the Florida School for Boys, teaching morality with punishment is very difficult and perhaps a fatal exercise. Those crosses in the backyard of that school can serve as a warning that we need to change course for humanity.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Impunity doesn't care about polls, but really worries if we the people should ever get organized

Here is a really interesting meme about Trump:

"New Quinnipiac poll results show Trump is disliked and distrusted by a majority of Americans."

And yet, Trump keeps going. I saw the news about the immigration raids across the country. After Kellyanne Conway suggested that people buy Ivanka's products, the website for the Office of Government Ethics was overwhelmed by traffic. Republicans in Congress continue to plot the repeal of Obamacare in the hopes that Trump will sign their bill.

Republicans in statehouses across the country are planning ambitious efforts to enact conservative agendas they think Americans really want, you know, because they think they have a mandate. In many of the stories I've read, they are acting with impunity since Republicans now have top to bottom control in 25 states. They are moving quickly on so-called "right-to-work" laws, curbing abortion rights, cutting public services and state budgets. They are working to create a meaner, leaner version of what they think government should look like.

This sea change in state and federal government is what happens when Democrats try to do what Republicans do to raise the big money. Democrats begin to do what big business wants instead of what the people want and then they start to look like Republicans and that confuses voters. That dynamic is what now allows Republicans to act with impunity.

I shared that meme again, but I pointed out that impunity doesn't care about polls. Really, it doesn't. People who have power think nothing of polls. When I saw that meme for the first time, the first thing that came to mind was every poll that I ever saw in the primaries last year. In every poll, Sanders beat Trump where Clinton would lose. Impunity doesn't care about polls. The Dingaling National Committee didn't care about polls, either. They rigged the primaries against Sanders and lost the general election.

The polls were against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The people in power don't care. They want war. In fact, if we surveyed the polling for a wide range of political issues, we'd find that generally, people in power don't care about the polls. They must care about something else, then. What is that? Money.

One of my favorite studies to cite on the relevance of polls is this one, "Testing Theories of American Politics:Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens". This study surveyed more than 1700 issues across 20 years of American politics and found that Congress voted against the polls better than 60% of the time. But they also found that elites (some very special, very wealthy people) and organized business interests had a much greater influence upon Congress.

People in power may not care about polls, but they begin to leave little bricks in their pants when the people they claim to represent start to organize and work against that power.

At this point I want to zero in those organized business interests mentioned in the study above. During the same period as that covered by the study (1981-2002), we saw accelerated diminution of union power and a reduction in the organization of labor. We also saw acceleration of the implementation of neoliberal economics, starting with Reagan and continuing with President Clinton and George Bush.

With the reduction of union labor during that period, we saw the rise of organized business interests and their eventual and complete domination of American politics. It is as if there was a concerted effort to discourage people from organizing, instead to urge them to act individually rather than as a group while promoting business power.

This distraction from organizing continues to this day. The Washington Post offers a great example in their article, "A blueprint for resistance to Trump has emerged. Here’s what it looks like." It's actually a good read on current events, but there is nothing in it to suggest organizing as a useful tool to work against what appears to be fascism rising in Washington. The basic thrust of that article is to rely upon Washington and hold guarded optimism. That's it.

Contrast that article with this one from the UK's The Guardian. In the UK, even in mainstream media, they advocate for organizing. In American media, it's "call your Congressman", but in the UK, they want to take it to the streets by organizing. That attitude in the UK has some history behind it. Even if you can't make the protest, The Guardian offers other ways to resist, too.

Here's an article from the Socialist Alternative website, "HOW SOCIALISTS AND THE POLL TAX MOVEMENT DROVE THATCHER OUT OF OFFICE". It describes the struggle against the poll tax in the UK and how very organized that struggle was. From the streets to the courts, the Militants, now known as the Socialist Party of the UK, organized their people to not just protest the tax. They organized about 18 million people to not pay the tax. They provided support to non-payers so that they could overwhelm the courts with people fighting the tax.

When people are protesting, they're not working. Employers need them. The state needs them to pay taxes. The wealthy need us to be working so that we're not attending meetings at the local school board, the statehouses and watching what's going on in Congress. If we're working, they're fine. But if millions of Americans are out in the streets raising a stink, that gets on the news and that's embarrassing.

It gets better. In the UK, the fight over the poll tax was a phenomenon. That poll tax affected everyone there. It was easy to get people into the streets and clog traffic. The protests gave visibility to the cause, but what really hurt was the resistance to paying the tax. The resistance was so strong that it became too expensive to enforce and collect the tax. This is how powerful organizing can be. If you want to go for the jugular in public policy, go for the money.

It's worth noting that Republicans are the party in favor of tougher laws against protesting. Republicans in five states are now pushing anti-protest laws, in defiance of the First Amendment. I guess they want their business allies to be safe and secure while they gut the unions and force everyone else to be disorganized.

See, it's OK for businesses to join an organization, like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, or the US Chamber of Commerce, or even the American Medical Association and use that organization to consolidate power. Those associations are unions of a sort, and they aren't for the people. Then businesses can use that power to influence Congress and statehouses for their conservative agenda. But God help you if you should try to organize a union of anybody that happens to work for those businesses. That tends to strike fear in the halls of power.

That's what right to work laws are designed to prevent. Now it turns out that even Donald Trump is in favor of right to work laws. He's in favor of defeating the efforts of people to organize so that they can make their voices heard. I thought he campaigned on promises to help the middle class. I guess he forgot about all that already.

This is what we're up against. Protests are nice, but organizing is better. When we organize, we can communicate ideas and efforts. Think of it like a laser. Ordinary light shines all over and bounces everywhere. A laser is collimated light, its very organized, very intense, and can be blinding, like the sun. All it takes is one issue for people to focus on and work against. Multiply that force times millions, and pretty soon, some very powerful people might have to surrender some of their power.

Sometimes I wonder if that is reason why Trump is in power today. To remind us that we still have each other and that we can still organize against power used against the rest of us. The only question in my mind is which issue will bring the people together, to organize and to resist.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Morality is a skill, not dogma

For the past few weeks, I've been watching "The Untold History of the United States", a documentary series on Netflix produced and narrated by Oliver Stone. As I saw this alternate history of the United States stream before my eyes, I found myself working hard to break it down to one simple idea. What I see is the United States caught in a war of morality. The United States is and has been for much of our history, waging a moral war against the world and many of its own citizens.

With each passing episode of Mr. Stone's version of our history, I found myself trying to put all that I have seen in context of what I know today. I have been trying to see all that history through a lens that says, "people would do better if they could". And throughout the history lessons presented by Mr. Stone, I could not help but think that these United States, acting as one, have been attempting to get the entire world to accept their notion of morality, without making any effort practice or to teach the skills required to achieve that morality.

The United States, and the people who claim to lead it, seem to think that people are bad because they want to be bad. So, when other people and other countries do not act in accordance with the moral code held by the United States, we have responded with furious, vindictive punishment. From the atom bombs we dropped on a country tired from war and ready to surrender, to a merciless war on terrorism perpetrated on countries that had nothing to do with 9/11, we have relied upon our power as justification for our morals rather than demonstrating that morality ourselves.

One cannot claim to teach morality without teaching the skills required to achieve that morality. Morality is not a question of motivation, morality is a skill. The skill of morality cannot be taught with a stick. Morality is a skill that must be demonstrated and taught with empathy and compassion through collaboration.

The United States has been trying for more than a century to convince us that capitalism has greater morality than socialism or communism. I have suggested in the past that it's not the form of government that matters so much as whether or not people treat each other with respect and compassion as a part of, and while living within the culture the government supports. The form of government we choose matters less than whether or not people are mature enough to treat each other with respect and kindness.

The leadership of the United States have been trying for more than a century to teach the world that Christianity is morally superior to any other religion, despite the fact that the United States was not even founded as a Christian nation. How have they been doing this? Mostly, through wars, military intervention and economic intervention. This hasn't been going well for America, either.

I am not saying that Christianity is a bad religion, rather, that there are a few people who claim to be Christian that are treating at least some other people very poorly. This continuum of good to bad behavior can be found in any group of people, in any religion. I've known as friends very moral atheists, Jews, Buddhists and Christians. But in its continual quest for dominance, the United States has not demonstrated the "Christian" morality that it seeks to impose upon others nor the compassion and empathy required to teach it.

This is not to say that we are a bad country, this is to say that if we want other nations to respect us, we must respect them. Just because we have the world's largest military force does not mean that others will respect us. That military force does not give us the right to topple other governments, to interfere with their economies and to foment wars in other countries. That kind of behavior breeds terrorism. 

How else can we explain the United States as the world's largest and greatest police state? How else can we explain the continual reliance upon a war time economy? To have peace, we must be peaceful. To teach peace, we must be peaceful, too. We must start that as a nation right now.

Great teachers are not worried about their security and they have no need to make war. They are entirely concerned with making sure their students learn the skills they sat in class for. Great teachers demonstrate the skills needed to live and prosper in peace, with compassion and empathy for their students. They do not punish their students for getting it wrong. Great teachers collaborate with their students. When a student goes astray, they attend to that student to determine what skills are missing and needed to learn the lesson and they teach those skills, verify that the skills have been learned and move on to the next lesson.

A great teacher is not concerned with motivation. He knows that the motivation is there. Even if the motivation appears absent, he knows it will appear when the skills are taught, learned and demonstrated by the student.

I can recall sitting in class as a child and a young man, and looking back, I now realize that the only real skills I was taught in school were reading, writing and arithmetic. They did not teach morality as a skill. They taught morality as a fact, as something to be accepted at face value without ever considering the skills required to achieve it. I now know for myself that morality comes from the chest and gut, not from a book.

The closest I think I ever came to learning life skills in school came when I took classes in home economics, auto shop, machine shop and electronics. The rest, history, social studies and even some science, were all about memorizing facts. They taught facts not skills. If they taught morality, they did not say they were teaching it. The morality they did teach was how bad socialism and communism were.

Our leaders continue to perpetuate the war on terror. They continue to allow frauds on an enormous scale to go uncorrected. With a real unemployment rate of 9.4%, they allow millions of Americans who want to work, to go wasted, with no job, no prospects, and no hope, while the wealthiest corporations in the world are allowed to park $2 trillion and more in tax shelters overseas. That's just the shortlist on my mind right now, and maybe yours, too.

This is not to say that our leaders are evil. I don't believe in evil and I'm not sure that I have ever believed in evil. The concept of evil is borne out of religion, a supernatural explanation for challenging behavior in children and adults. I do not believe in evil people. I believe that there are only the confused (who we call evil) and the less confused (the good). I think we can say with a fair amount of confidence that our leaders are really confused, both Democrats and Republicans, together.

Our leaders, intent upon teaching the morality of capitalism and Christianity, seem hopelessly lost because they are not teaching the skills required to achieve the morality they claim to possess. They seem more intent on pursuing money than morality. If our leaders do not possess the skill of morality, then it is up to us to teach those skills if we have them, and learn them if we don't. And when we teach those skills, we must be mindful to demonstrate the skill of morality ourselves, in and out of class, with empathy and compassion, through collaboration with everyone we meet.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Local inequality activism through social media with doctors and dentists

One underlying theme of my political writing on this blog is that the laws and public policies that we bemoan today are implemented almost exclusively with the support of the 1%. From awful "free trade" laws (think NAFTA), to right to work laws to the lenient attitudes that government has towards polluters, we can lay it all at the feet of the 1%. The surreal inequality, the wars, the pollution, the social unrest are all results of the public policies implemented by the 1%. I think it's time to start asking them why they allow this stuff to happen. Directly.

I base the above statements on evidence I've collected over the years, which you can find peppered throughout my articles on this blog. I'd say that the most interesting scientific evidence that I've found so far to support the idea that the 1% are running the show is this study, "Testing Theories of American Politics:Elites, Interest Groups, and AverageCitizens". In that study, they surveyed more than 1700 issues over 20 years and found that ordinary citizens like you and me have next to zero influence on public policy. Instead, they found that the greatest influence can found among American elites and wealthy business interests.

I know of one economist who has researched additional evidence that I use to support my contentions above: Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Baker is the author of numerous books (like this one) and the Beat The Press blog. In his blog, Baker offers critical analysis of the economic news in our mainstream media with a pinch of dry humor. He has been consistent in his observations and, as far as I know, he is one of 6 economists who published predictions of the collapse of the housing bubble long before it happened. I can't say that I take his word as gospel, but he's one of the most accurate economists I've found to date.

One theme of his articles is that doctors and dentists get protection from international competition in trade agreements, while the rest of us are pitted against third world countries in manufacturing and service work. Baker consistently points out how doctors and dentists have been able to influence public policy, including trade agreements, with their money. 

Baker has also made it clear that this influence imposes an implicit tax on the rest of us. By their influence, they are distorting the market to increase their income. How do they distort the market? They use their influence to create shortages in their profession relative to demand. For example, doctors and dentists have sought and received restrictions that limit the number of doctors and dentists that can practice here. Doctors must complete a US residency program here. Dentists must graduate from a US dental school here, too.

This is all a matter of public policy, which professionals like doctors and dentists supported with their direct and indirect contributions to the political campaigns of conservatives and neoliberals (read "conservative Democrats") who profess support for "free trade". It would seem that for doctors and dentists, their idea of free trade is that they can pull down on average, twice what their counterparts in Europe and Japan can earn. They don't seem to mind that we're paying twice as much in GDP for health care that other industrialized countries are paying.

It's also worth noting that they belong to a union of sorts. For doctors, its the American Medical Association. For dentists, it's the American Dental Association. Both of their unions are powerful lobbies in Congress. Their unions make significant contributions to those same politicians who profess support for free trade, just so long as doctors and dentists are not involved.

While I enjoy reading Baker's short and interesting articles, I've never really thought about what I can do with them. I often include links to Baker's articles and books in my blog articles because I find his evidence compelling. Then one day, a couple years ago, I tweeted a link one of his articles to the Twitter account of the company my dentist is a partner in, just to see what would happen. On my next visit, there was no charge for me but they did charge me for my wife and kids in future visits. They have consistently waived the co-pay for me on every visit since.

You know your doctors and your dentists. You visit them from time to time so they see you face to face just about every year. With very little discomfort, you can now raise awareness with them about the policies that they support with their campaign contributions. You can do the same thing with their professional unions, too.

Caveat: don't assume that you know what they're thinking. Your doctor, and even his or her group, may already have strong reservations about this sort of discussion. They have feelings and they are human. Assume ignorance before malice. Doctors and dentists do what they do because they enjoy helping people. Since this relationship between the economic power of doctors and dentists and trade agreements is not very well publicized in mainstream media, they are almost certainly unaware. Treat them as if they are innocent and pursue your contact with them to raise awareness not to cast blame. Raising awareness is the higher road. Take it.

Before you begin your journey on that higher road, pick a good example article like those show below:

Or this one: 

There are many to choose from at the Beat the Press blog, but I think these are the most pointed and they're fairly recent. Now that you have your link, you can search for your local dentist or doctors office with your search engine of choice. Dentists typically work in small partnerships, and that will make your contact a bit more visible to them. Doctors tend to work in larger organizations, but if your doctor works in a smaller organization, your action will again be more visible.

When you search for your doctor's medical organization, look for their Twitter account or Facebook page. Now you can post the links to them and offer a polite comment to let them know you're thinking of them. Remember, the goal here is to raise awareness, not just to them, but to their other customers. We can point out, nicely and politely, that their influence on public policy has allowed medical and dental costs to balloon. We can be specific and say that we now pay roughly double the GDP in health care costs than most other industrialized nations.

We can also point out that the public policies they have supported have helped to increase the state and federal budget deficits. How do they do this? There are health care programs run by the state and federal governments, Medicare and Medicaid. They are financed by separate employment taxes that we see on our pay stubs. Their costs increase when doctors use their political power to reduce the supply of doctors despite increasing demand, to increase their income. All at the expense of everyone else.

At this point, we can reasonably ask them to withdraw their support for policies which distort the market in their favor. We can politely ask them to withdraw their support for politicians and organizations who support such policies. Note that if you're shy about contacting your doctor's or dentist's local offices, there is still the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association.

Then you can let them know that you want to buy their products and services, not their politics. Advise them that you came to them without regard to their politics and that it's not fair for them to use their money to influence public policy, economic policy with money you paid for their services, at your expense. Now we can understand why Citizens United was so important to the elite. No one wants to be named as someone who provides support to policies that would place the working class, the middle class in peril.

Be careful, your doctor and dentist may not even be aware that he or she has directly or indirectly paid for protection from international competition at your expense. Just assume that they are innocent and let them respond if they choose to do so. Be as neutral as possible in your wording while raising awareness of the problem you wish to address.

One or two people doing what I did might not matter. But if millions of people began to openly discuss this apparent conflict between doctors and dentists and their customers, that might arouse their conscience. They might do some investigating themselves to see how their influence in politics is being used. And don't forget to send the same message to the American Dental Association and the American Medical Association.

Yes, doctors and dentists do have a conscience and the vast majority of them do their work with a sincere interest in their patients. But knowingly or not, they have supported public policy decisions that have placed their customers in economic peril. I like my dentist but I'm not friends with him. I like my doctor, but I don't ask him out to a friendly lunch to share personal anecdotes.

It is a tenuous relationship between those who have political power and those who do not. That relationship would be strained even more if millions of Americans started unloading this kind of frustration upon the members of the professional class that are most immediately accessible to millions of Americans, their neighborhood doctor and dentist. That's why it's important to tread on this subject lightly. You want them as an ally, not an adversary.

If you should decide take up this call to engage, be mindful when you do. Be polite. Remember, they are human beings just like you. They are doing what is in their best interest. Do not descend into name calling or make any threats of any kind. The goal is to raise awareness by asking a simple question and put them on the spot. The question, in so many words is this, "Are you aware that you your political power has allowed you to gain at the expense of your customers?" That is all we want to ask.

Post your link and your question, say little else and stay on point if they should engage in a dialogue. Let them answer, let them defend their point of view. You do not have to speak for them. Let them speak for themselves. Ask the question and wait to see what happens. You are not responsible for the results once you ask the question. They are.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Trump Cabal is proof positive that money is a terrible substitute for interpersonal and political skills

I see now that there are some who believe that a coup of sorts is in progress in the United States. At least one man, Yonatan Zunger at Medium, believes that the apparent ban on Muslim travel to the United States is a test balloon for a coup. He's made some rather compelling arguments in his article for evidence of a coup. As I read his article, I thought that sounded a lot like a conspiracy theory until I saw that Michael Moore was saying pretty much the same thing on Twitter:
Yes, that does seem alarmist, and there may be reason for concern. But I have no doubt that if there really were some sort of coup underway, they're going to run into some sort of resistance. The Framers of the Constitution were no stranger to unstable governments. I believe that their idea of checks and balances had this sort of thing in mind.

Of course, that only works if the guys in the other branches of government actually check the power of another branch of government. With the "Muslim travel ban", the courts did actually check the power of the executive branch. But judging by this tweet, we might not be able to rely upon Congress to do the same thing:

David Yankovich just happens to be a reporter at Politico, so I'd expect him to know what he's talking about. If there is a coup going on, I'm sure there are more than just a handful of reporters out there working on the story. Is there?

After I wrote an article the other day about holding Trump accountable to his comments about the corrupting influence of money in politics, someone left a comment reminding me that Trump just hired a bunch of billionaires to work as department heads in the cabinet of his administration. There seems to be some confusion at the Trump administration and I'm hoping to clear that up, just a bit.

First, possession of money alone does not confer any wisdom or skills upon the people who have it. It does not confer any magical powers, either. Second, possession of money is not confirmation of interpersonal skills. I have known and read about some people who are, shall we say, "well off", and I can't really say for certain that they have very good interpersonal skills.

For example, Trump's closest adviser appears to be the former head honcho at Breitbart, Steve Bannon. He's in the news a lot these days. There are some who say that Bannon is calling the shots for Trump. Perhaps he is. Bannon is wealthy and has numerous ongoing enterprises, which would seem to be signs of personal success. But he's endured 3 failed marriages, and one of his former wives accused him of abuse. The exchange between him and his lawyer, and his wife, suggests a vindictive attitude on his part.

It's also worth noting that Bannon is closely tied to a reclusive billionaire, Robert Mercer. Newsweek has a really good piece covering the relationship between Bannon and Mercer and it's well worth the read. In it we learn how they have both worked to cover their tracks while promoting the Trump campaign. We also learn just how close they think a campaign can be to a SuperPAC and still get away with it. They seem to think that because they have money, their judgment is infallible.

To see Trump line his cabinet with billionaires suggests that he really thinks that people with a ton of money are better at making decisions than people who do not. Hillary Clinton had a lot of money, yet she didn't make very good decisions during her campaign. Maybe she just needed more money or more of that earned coverage that Trump got. I've seen numerous stories to suggest that she doesn't have very good interpersonal skills, either. By the way, if there is a coup going on, I'm almost certain that Hillary Clinton, with her enormous collection of media allies and connections, would know something about this. She seems really quiet lately and she's certainly not talking coup.

There is something else about money: people who have lots and lots of money seem to think they can do well in politics. They even think that money confers upon them the power to run governments - without input from people who have less money. As we've seen in this past election, money does not confer any new powers upon the receiver of it. Money does not confirm that one is capable of running a government, much less executing a coup.

All that I've ever seen money do in politics and interpersonal relations is confer a false sense of confidence.

Oh, wait. There's more. Money does not confer the power to make decisions for other people. Yes, money is a medium of exchange and we can use it to buy things from other people. But we can't buy people. God knows we've tried, but every time we've tried, humans have made a mess of themselves and other humans. We can't use money to change the way other people think, either. I know it seems like it works, but sooner or later, people begin to realize that they're working against their own interests when they sell their soul for money.

All this brings me again to the same point that I made the other day. Trump has hired billionaires and millionaires to implement his ideas of government. Some of them have made mighty contributions to his campaign. The Independent Journal Review has complied a short list of donors and their appointments:
His highest single contributor, WWE co-founder Linda McMahon, now runs the Small Business Administration; she gave $7.5 million to his campaign.
His choice for Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and her family donated $1.8 million towards his run. [Her brother runs Blackwater. I know, fun!]
Todd Ricketts, his Deputy Commerce secretary pick, contributed $1.3 million via his parents.
Previously Trump's national finance chairman, his pick for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, gave $425,000.
Together with his wife, Labor secretary Andrew Puzder — Trump's most recent appointee — donated $332,000.
And one of Trump's earliest donors, Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, contributed $200,000.
That seems like some rather serious cash for someone who has openly acknowledged the corrupting influence of money. Surely this is a contradiction we can confront Trump with. We can also point this out to our elected representatives in Congress, especially the Senate. The president must seek the advice and consent of the Senate for many of the officers he appoints to his administration. Maybe they'll get a clue if thousands of us call them about it.

We must also remind Congress that we know that the corrupting influence of money doesn't just apply to Congress. This applies to appointees in the executive branch. If Trump truly wants to drain the swamp, he's not acting like it. We must remind our elected representatives that just because those people have money doesn't make them any better at making decisions than people who are not wealthy.

One look at how we've been degrading the environment we live in should serve as a good example. Our oceans are filling up plastic. Our air, water and land is polluted. The polar ice caps are melting. All of this is from business action, not from the government. If government is the problem, we're not seeing it here.

Trump says he wants to make America great again. But what seems to be missing from the discussion is what exactly makes America so great. Here's a clue. In this great experiment, more people have influence on how government functions than at any other time before. What makes America great is not the money or the opportunities that America presents to all who come to her. What makes her great is that in all of history, there has never been a country that has allowed more people to have a say in how the country is run.

Given how Steve Bannon is consolidating power as a member of Trump's team, working hard to resist the other branches of government and forming a tight inner circle of power within the administration, it would seem that Trump and his team have forgotten what makes America so great.

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws.”

– John Adams, second president of these United States