Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Trump descends deeper into the heart of darkness

October 20, 2016

images-1He’s the gift that keeps on giving. In the debate, Trump was asked a question that can have only one answer. His running mate had given that answer. So had daughter Ivanka. But Donald shockingly refused. He refused to say he would accept the election result.

You know it’s an extraordinary moment when a newspaper begins its debate reporting with the words, “Threatening a fundamental pillar of American democracy . . . . “

Peaceful transfer of power has been just that, a crucial element of our democratic culture. It’s the acceptance of pluralistic legitimacy – acceptance that people other than you may have a right to participate and even to exercise power. (We see, in today’s Middle East, what happens when this concept is not part of the culture.) Trump shows yet again he does not understand our democracy, does not honor it, and would wreck it.

Past presidential losers not only accepted the results, but always did so with exemplary graciousness. Even Richard Nixon, in 1960, rejected advice to challenge the close outcome, knowing that would damage the country. Even Al Gore, who many believed was cheated of the presidency in 2000, refused to pursue his claim and instead conceded in a very gracious speech.

Why did Trump say something so repellently different? He can’t think it will attract votes, to actually win the election. No, this is about after. Cynically fueling his supporters’ sense of grievance, to carry his “movement” and plague our politics for years beyond.

unknownPreviously, channeling the worst dictators, he had threatened to jail his opponent. Last night, compounding it, he said she should not even be allowed to run. That’s how things work in dictatorships (like Iran’s). They hold elections but pesky regime opponents are not allowed to run. Trump is the banana republican candidate.

unknown-1His insistence that the election is being rigged against him, with massive voter fraud, is itself a massive fraud. American voting fraud is actually about as rare as people with two heads.* (And in a majority of states, elections are overseen by Republican officials.)

But the huge irony is that if the election is rigged, it is actually rigged against the Democrats. Because many Republican state legislatures – on a phony pretext of preventing nonexistent voter fraud – have enacted all sorts of restrictions, like onerous ID requirements, whose naked real aim is to prevent voting by minorities who favor Democrats.

I’m a Republican. Republicans should be trying to attract minority votes – not to suppress them. And should not be whining about election outcomes – let alone beforehand.

UPDATE: Trump now says he WILL accept the election result, on one condition: if he wins.

* True, voter rolls are filled with ineligible names – people who’ve moved away, or died, etc. But how many of them try to vote?

David Gelernter and the ideology trap

October 19, 2016

unknownDavid Gelernter is a well-known computer scientist, whose talk I wrote about previously. Afterwards, I wanted to speak with him, but didn’t want to buy the new book he was promoting. So instead I bought a previous one, America-Lite, which looked more fun.

America-Lite actually argues a serious point, but is aptly titled, being, well, lite. This is no weighty Closing of the American Mind (which he mentions). Indeed, given my general sympathy with much of what it says, I found the book annoyingly supercilious and off-putting.



It concerns America’s cultural revolution since the 1960s. Gelernter basically doesn’t like it. He attributes it to two related phenomena. First, “the Great Reform” in higher education. Key here was the breakdown of old efforts to limit Jews on campuses, which changed their WASP culture, as mainly social institutions, to mainly intellectual ones. And shoved them leftward. Meantime, secondly, there emerged “Imperial Academia” – an enlarged influence of the university world upon the broader American culture. This was largely down to sheer heft – a much bigger percentage of today’s population has been through higher education than in past epochs.

unknown-2Gelernter says the old WASP elite has thus been replaced by post-religious globalist intellectuals – “PORGIs” – who now run the country. Not everyone in academia buys this intellectual stance, but its influence is leveraged by the fact that non-subscribers care much less about politics and just go along with the flow, taking on board the indoctrination, while nonconforming viewpoints are cudgeled into silence and delegitimized by the PORGIs’ political correctness policing.

unknown-3The result is what Gelernter relentlessly labels PORGI Airheads (always with a capital A) – people full of received wisdom but empty of factual knowledge. Indeed, he sees much of PORGI-ism as contrary to fact, but uninterested in learning as much. After all, it’s far easier to reach judgments from preconceived ideas than from factual analysis.

For Gelernter, President Obama exemplifies the PORGI Airhead. He denies Obama is an ideologue – saying the President’s thinking doesn’t even rise to that level, being instead a zombie-like slavishness to the PORGI theories about the world that, like so many other students of his era, Obama had installed in his brain while at Columbia and Harvard.

I’m no Obama fan; but willing to give the Devil his due. Gelernter’s book itself epitomizes a lamentable trend in American political discourse: the notion that our side thinks and the other does not. Indeed, the left is inordinately fond of this gambit too, always casting itself as coolly rational whereas the right is a bunch of unthinking automatons. Al Gore even wrote a book titled Assault on Reason with that exact theme.

unknownNo. You may disagree with how the other guy thinks. But don’t imagine that you are thinking while he is not – a grossly arrogant self-delusion. While I am certain anti-evolutionists are wrong, I never forget they are equally certain I am wrong.

That said, it is true most people seem to view the world through pre-shaped lenses of bias. I have written about trying to base my beliefs upon what I see to be facts – my “ideology of reality” – whereas most people do it the other way around, letting their beliefs dictate what they see as facts.

Gelernter is right that many have beliefs about the world because those beliefs fit ideas they like, not because they’re actually factually true. A perfect example is GM food. It must be bad, on principle, a certain mindset holds; so the science must support that view. The Albany Times-Union recently editorialized that the issue remains open and some scientists see dangers. False! The newspaper commits exactly the sin for which it repeatedly pillories climate change deniers. They too see that issue as scientifically unsettled – because that fits their preferred picture.

unknown-4And like small children, bedazzled by shiny objects, the left in particular is bedazzled by labels – like “socialist.” It’s like putting lipstick on a pig, convincing them of its beauty – like Venezuela’s vile regime, or Mugabe’s.

In all these cases, the idea trumps the reality. The left sees itself as holding lofty ideals. They’ll burble on about inequality and the 1% making people poor – which is factually untrue – while failing to notice how “socialist” regimes do make people poor. Or how their prejudice against GM food, factually baseless, condemns millions of poor people to malnutrition and starvation.

They just think differently than me.

Meantime, Gelernter’s whole shtick about “Airheads” seeing the world through a veil of theory uncontaminated by facts was hard to take seriously – when one perspective whose waning he laments is the religious one. Gelernter, an observant Jew, doesn’t see how people can figure out moral issues without religion. unknown-5Well, I can. In fact, atheists without religion’s prepackaged answers are forced to think that much harder about moral issues. And if ever there was a belief system impervious to factual realities, surely it’s religious faith!

Trump: no more Mr. Nice Guy

October 11, 2016

unknownNow he says the shackles are off him.

I’ve watched political debates for 56 years. But Sunday’s featured the most shocking and frightening thing I ever heard in one: Trump’s threat to jail his opponent.

We take for granted our free and open political competition. But if government can interfere with that, voting is meaningless. That happens in too many countries, like Russia, Cuba, Iran, China, Egypt, and now Turkey, where politically challenging those in power means jail. Dictators everywhere pervert laws and courts to lock up critics. Even in some ostensible democracies like Singapore and Malaysia, governments abuse judicial processes to persecute and neutralize political opponents. unknown-1We’ve just learned of South Africa’s well-respected finance minister being hit with corruption charges, an obvious political set-up (while President Zuma gets away with huge transgressions).

America was established to avoid just that kind of pernicious abuse, with a strong system of checks and balances, including an independent judiciary, and the First Amendment guaranteeing free expression. Our record is not spotless. The 1790s Alien and Sedition laws put a congressman behind bars for his anti-administration views; during the Civil War, some pro-slavery Northern politicians too were jailed; and Nixon tried to use the IRS to harass opponents. Yet those were exceptions that prove the rule. Throughout our history, the rule has been that you don’t use control over the levers of government power to beat on and intimidate political foes.

That, once more, has been a key underpinning of our democracy, because it gives opponents a fair chance of winning elections. And this is not even so much a consequence of our system and rules as it is a part of our culture. It’s our civic and political ethos; the way we’ve grown up to behave.

images-1The matters for which Trump threatens to jail Hillary Clinton have been fully investigated by the relevant federal authorities, and as explained by the (Republican) FBI Director, they determined that no criminal charges are appropriate. But even if that were not so, a candidate talking about jailing his opponent is a visceral, terrifying threat to the kind of country we are. Hearing it froze my blood.

This is not how America does politics.

La commedia è finita

October 9, 2016
"Believe me . . . this much."

“Believe me . . . this much.”

He said, “These words don’t reflect who I am.”

Oh yes they do, you creep. They reflect perfectly who you are. Some of us saw it long ago.

And let’s be clear. It wasn’t just lewd words. It was bragging about criminal sexual assault.

How can any self-respecting person continue to support this disgusting monster? Even before, otherwise intelligent people tied themselves in knots trying to rationalize a vote for him, waving away all his numerous grotesqueries: the lying, the frauds, the rip-offs, the financial chicanery, the ignorance, the egotism, the vulgarity, the encouragement of violence and divisive bigotry. One kept wondering what it might take to finally open their eyes. It turns out not even criminal sexual assault is enough. A quick poll reports three-quarters of Republicans saying the party should still stick by him.

I’ve been a Republican for 52 years. The party used to stand for something. Now it’s nothing but naked tribalism.

The Debate

September 27, 2016

images-2I sat down with a sense of dread; and a bowl of popcorn to medicate the pain. Conventional wisdom said Clinton had to tread a lot of fine lines, some mutually incompatible. Whereas all Trump had to do was not appear deranged.

Half an hour in, I was gaping in horror. He seemed to be having his way with her.

Of course I knew everything he said was ridiculous, but tried to see it from the eyes of a voter still (amazingly) undecided – uninformed, unengaged, impressionable. And I recalled bin Laden’s aphorism that when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they like the strong one. unknown-1Trump was all bold colors, forcefulness, conviction; full of soundbites to which the yahoo will shout, “Yeah, that’s right!” While Clinton was full of standard left-liberal politician boilerplate droning that puts one to sleep.

But I also remembered a commentator’s suggestion to watch the debate with the sound off – TV being, after all, primarily a visual medium. I had told Clinton to smile, but I thought she overdid it, with an often sappy-looking clown-grin. unknownHowever, Trump’s facial dynamics were much worse. Not at all the visage of a serious public man. He almost flunked the non-derangement test.

Still, I was surprised by the consensus verdict of polls* and pundits that Clinton won big (or “bigly” in Trumpanese). I’d feared more people would fall for his alpha-male shtick and snake oil. If not, that’s reassuring.

He did seem to kill her on trade. Clinton basically had no come-back because she’d compromised herself by pandering to her party’s anti-trade left. Too bad Gary Johnson (the Libertarian nominee) wasn’t there to point out that importing goods made cheaper overseas than we can make them here benefits consumers through lower prices; enabling them to spend more on other things; which creates jobs, making up for those lost. And Trump’s condemnation of trade deals like NAFTA is utter rubbish. There’s scant evidence it cost us jobs – but it sure helped Mexico – and richer Mexicans can buy more from us, again adding to U.S. jobs. How tragic that free trade is undergoing a brainless political lynching.

But happily Clinton nailed Trump on his despicable business practices, though she could have been more forceful. The thousands of lawsuits deserved mention. She did note his multiple bankruptcies but failed to explain that a bankruptcy has victims – all those whose bills go unpaid, and whose investments are wiped out. His whole fortune comes from stiffing, ripping off , screwing people.

images-1And why no mention of Trump University? Here we have the extraordinary, odious circumstance of a presidential candidate on trial for fraud. And this doesn’t even come up?

Then there’s his refusal to reveal his tax returns. It’s a lie that being audited prevents this; the IRS itself refutes it. Today’s paper says Trump has never actually shown evidence that he is in fact being audited! And what of his boast that not paying income taxes was “smart?” Who ever imagined a candidate saying such a thing? If that’s not a gaffe, I don’t know what a gaffe is.

But Trump is a clever manipulator of factoids and verbiage – a true BS artist. This was displayed in his twisty answer on birtherism. Hillary’s response could have been stronger. I wanted to hear, “Donald, that’s just complete nonsense, that insults our intelligence. Everyone knows you were the leading promoter of birtherism. It was always a lie, you knew it, yet you kept at it, and now you’re still twisting the facts.”

I always felt that at the end of the day, while many voters seem up for a crazy roll of the dice with Trump, more would opt for the less exciting, uninspiring, more conventional, definitely compromised, yet steadier, saner, safer choice. Response to the debate suggests this outcome.

unknown-2Having that vile creep on a presidential debate stage is already a national degradation. Let us hope that this will mercifully end in November with Trump defeated.


* Forget the online polls, they mean nothing.

Dear Trump voters

September 14, 2016

unknown4You’re making a big mistake. A whopper. Believe me; OK?

What a big con you’re falling for. Make America great again? Trump has no clue what made it great. It wasn’t walls to keep out foreigners (and foreign goods). And it sure wasn’t brutes like him. His candidacy already drags America in the dirt.

A really big con. Bring back those old time factory jobs? Delusional. And what Trump is talking about, to supposedly achieve this, is economic suicide. Because most things you buy would be costlier. Most Americans – you especially – would be poorer. That import tax he advocates, to keep out cheap Chinese goods? It would really be a tax on you.

unknown-13You feel economically insecure – so you put faith in a billionaire? Like he cares about you? He says he created jobs. Trouble is, he didn’t pay the people who did them. That’s how he got rich – by screwing people, by not paying his bills, by skipping out on debts. By looting his businesses and leaving a trail of financial ruin and lawsuits. With frauds like Trump University, stealing the savings of people like you. He’s even stealing money contributed to his campaign. And stiffing its employees. (And it’s Hillary you think should be jailed?)

unknown-2I know it’s futile saying Trump cynically exploits overblown fear of terrorism. You’re 100 times likelier to take a bullet from your own gun. Terrorism is mainly psychological warfare, and one of its greatest assets, in spreading the fear it aims for, is Trump.

And there’s the lying. Compulsive, pathological lying. Politicians may bend the truth; Trump disembowels it. Lying about New Jerseyites celebrating 9/11. Lying about his past stance on the Iraq War. Even when he meets a foreign leader (Mexico’s president), he lies about the discussion. (“Telling it like it is?”)

unknown-3And lying about why he won’t reveal his tax returns. What’s he hiding? Why do you imagine such a liar is not making a fool of you about everythingThe Economist has examined the phenomenon of “post-truth politics” encouraging people to forgo critical thinking in favor of having their feelings and prejudices reinforced by spoon-fed garbage. Trump’s earlier nonsensical “Birther” campaign was a prime example.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

And then there’s the incitement of violence, encouraging supporters to punch people, saying he’ll pay their legal bills. Even hinting someone should shoot his opponent.

unknown-4And the ignorance. The willful ignorance of an ego so out of control he thinks he knows everything. “I know more than the generals about ISIS.” And he insisted – emphatically – “Putin isn’t going into Ukraine.”

Hello? Read a f**king newspaper.*

And he admires Putin; prefers him our own president. Putin, the dictator, thief, murderer (literally). Putin, another big liar, who has shredded Europe’s peace, our worst enemy who’s messed with us at every turn. And Putin wants Trump to win, too – he, at least, understands it would do the opposite of making America great again. (Watch out for a late dirty trick by the Kremlin aimed at throwing the election to Trump.)

unknown-6And the insults (McCain not a war hero – the judgment of Trump who dodged the draft). He wants immigrants screened for their adherence to American values (as if that’s doable). How about screening presidential candidates for adherence to American values? They don’t include lies, frauds, thefts, insults, violence, and bigotry, fear, and hate.

To quote leading author and columnist Thomas Friedman, Trump is “a disgusting human being. His children should be ashamed of him.”

unknown-7But Trump famously has said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and lose no votes (insulting his own supporters). They do seem impervious to any damning truths about him. This shows they back him not for what he is but for what he represents. This is cultural: revenge of the no-class losers.

The Economist has also reported a careful analysis, through sifting survey data, concluding that the most common factor behind Trump support is really racial resentment – the idea that non-whites are undeservingly coddled; that a less white America is a worse America. You may well deny this, while actually deceiving yourself. What we really think, and what we think we think, can differ.

images-13But we should search our hearts, and not give reign to our basest impulses. What a tragedy for America if this vile creep wins.

* Yeah, I know your answer: he’ll surround himself with sage experts. But so far it’s mostly a gaggle of rump-kissing lowlifes.

This is my America

August 11, 2016

UnknownIlhan Omar spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya, fleeing from the turmoil in her native Somalia.

On Tuesday, now 33, she won a Democratic primary for Minnesota state representative. Somali refugees have been drawn to Minnesota by welcoming programs, and are now estimated to exceed 40,000 there. Omar defeated the incumbent, who was the longest serving Minnesota legislator. She is favored to win the November election over her Republican opponent, who is also a Somali immigrant; and would be the first Somali-American state legislator.

In an interview, Omar explained she had sought the support of a broad coalition, not just people of African origin. “I hope our story is an inspirational story to many people,” she said.

The narcissist

August 6, 2016

Having gotten much from Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, I picked up his 2006 book, Social Intelligence, and found the following passages, in a chapter titled, “The Narcissist: Dreams of Glory” –

“In the business world, such narcissists can end up as larger-than-life leaders . . . Such ambitious and self-confident leaders can be effective in the present cutthroat business world . . . Productive narcissists combine a justified self-confidence with openness to criticism . . . .

Unknown“But unhealthy narcissists crave to be admired more than loved . . . [T]hey are driven to achieve – not because they have a high internal standard of excellence but because they want the perks and glory that achievement brings. Caring little about how their actions affect others, they feel free to pursue their goals aggressively, regardless of the human costs. In times of great turbulence . . . such leaders can seem attractive . . . .

“But such narcissists empathize selectively, turning a blind eye to those who do not feed their striving for glory. They can close or sell a company, or lay off multitudes of employees, without feeling an ounce of sympathy for those for whom those decisions are personal disasters . . .

“Such leaders avoid even constructive feedback, which they perceive as an attack. Their hypersensitivity to criticism in any form also means that narcissistic leaders don’t seek out information widely; rather they selectively seize on data that supports their views, ignoring disconfirming facts. They don’t listen but prefer to preach and indoctrinate . . . .

“When they harbor unrealistic dreams, lacking any restraint and ignoring wise counsel, they drag a company down the wrong track . . . .

images“Even unhealthy narcissists can sometimes be charmers. The very name comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, who was so entranced by his own beauty that he fell in love with his own image reflected in a lake. The nymph Echo also fell in love with him, but she ended up spurned and heartbroken, unable to compete with his self-adoration.

“As the myth suggests, many narcissists attract people because the self-confidence they exude can lend them a charismatic aura. Though they are quick to put others down, unhealthy narcissists view themselves in absolutely positive terms. They are, understandably, happiest in a marriage with someone who will be unfailingly fawning. The slogan of the narcissist might be ‘Others exist to adore me.’

images-1“[N]arcissists . . . are blatant in their self-inflation and braggadocio – leavened with a necessary dose of self-deception . . . they take credit for successes but never blame for failure . . . .

“According to one standard test, a narcissist is someone who has a grandiose sense of self-importance, harbors obsessive fantasies of unbounded glory, feels rage or intense shame when criticized, expects special favors, and lacks empathy. That deficiency in empathy means narcissists remain oblivious to the self-centered abrasiveness that others see in them so clearly . . . Nonetheless, narcissists typically think of themselves as likable.”

Gregg Millett

August 3, 2016

GreggGregg Millett died August 1, aged 77. This was a shock. He was a friend of ours; in fact, he was responsible for our marriage, running Singles Outreach Support where I met my wife-to-be in 1988. We didn’t know him then; only many years later did we become acquainted through the local humanist society.

Gregg was a man of strong left-wing political views. He called himself an “old commie” and had spent time in Nicaragua during the Sandinista period living those beliefs. He also traveled several times to China and cultivated relationships with Chinese both there and in the U.S. He was always coming out with statements that I personally found absurd. So it might seem strange that we were friends.

However – unlike far too many people in today’s political landscape – Gregg was always humble about his views, a gentle and sweet man, always respectful of others, and always willing to listen to and consider other viewpoints. He was intellectually curious and wanted to learn and understand. He even invited me several times to speak to his group, and often said things I wrote made him re-think. Maybe he was just flattering me – but that was Gregg, always striving to be a good person toward others.

Communism aside, if all people were like Gregg Millett, this would be a better world.

Hillary’s convention speech II; and more Trumpery

July 30, 2016

imagesWell, Hillary did use some of the draft I wrote for her (see previous post). But mainly she insisted on giving the Standard Model Democratic Speech – covering every policy, every voter niche, stroking every interest group.

It was a speech for the ‘90s.

images-1Not only is Hillary running as a Democrat, she’s running as a Bernie Sanders Democrat (though Bernie always called himself not a Democrat but a socialist). Yet if Clinton is running as a Sanders Democrat, you wouldn’t know it from listening to the Bernie-or-busters. While her stances are practically a carbon copy of his, they still talk as though it’s a saint versus a Satan. As Sarah Silverman told them, they’re being ridiculous. Of course, their candidate always was.

UnknownHillary (like Andrew Cuomo) seems to think orating means talking loud. As though that shows your speech is really important and you really really mean it. Hillary often sounds as shrill as a harpy. And often looks like smiling is painful for her. Trump spent his entire speech scowling darkly, as though he could spit bullets. Why did Hillary try to imitate that?

Meantime, Trump has endorsed – encouraged – the idea of an enemy nation engaging in espionage against us and interfering in U.S. politics. This is the man who says only he can protect us.

But he also says he won’t necessarily protect other nations against an attack by that enemy, notwithstanding our treaty obligations to do so.

images-2And when asked about America’s opposition to Russia’s grab of Crimea, Trump said, “We’ll be looking at that.” Which is Trump-speak for “I don’t know what the frick to say, but that doesn’t stop me from saying something stupid.” His answer has been interpreted as bowing to the Crimea crime. But I doubt he meant that – rather, his answer revealed he knows nothing about Crimea, doesn’t know where it is, or why it’s an issue.

When a man thinks he knows everything, he thinks he needn’t bother himself actually knowing anything.

(I’m voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.)