Sexual Shenanigans

Some thoughts on all the sexual harassment / abuse / shenanigans that have been in the news of late:

  • This is not a partisan issue. What all of those accused have in common is that they are men, typically of a certain era.
  • There are levels of abuse being lumped together, from the off-color jokes or outside the clothes gestures on the least end to true sexual harassment and abuse (i.e., abuse of power relationship), improprieties with those underage, predatory activities, and activities after consent was not given. There are also ranges from one-time incidents where the behavior was an anomaly, to repeated patterns of behavior with multiple accusers.
  • The concern should be less with the one-time minor cases and more with repeated patterns of abuse that have continued over multiple years.
  • The response to the accusations is also significant: there is a different between recognizing wrong behavior and apologizing for it, between admitting the behavior and indicating you viewed it as acceptable, and denying the behavior. On the correct end of the spectrum is recognition, apology, and acceptance of the apology, without a continuing pattern. On the wrong end of the spectrum is denial in the face of multiple accusations with evidence of continued behavior.
  • All cases are worthy of investigation and appropriate action. Just as it is proper for the Senate to investigate Sen. Franken’s behavior from before he was elected Senator, they should equally investigate the claims regarding the President’s behavior before he was elected, and similar claims against other sitting officials and those nominated or running for office. Yes, I’m looking at you, Roy Moore. Remember: What these folks have in common is that they are men — this is not a partisan issue where this behavior is acceptable when it is done by your party, but not when done by their party.
  • There is a tension, as I have noted before, between our notions of justice and presumed innocence, and wanting to believe those who have come forward with the claims because they deserve to be heard. Complicating this is the fact that many of these incidents are ages old, with little to no evidence other than he said/she said. We are far too aware of induced memory (such as the McMartin Pre-School case) or people making false claims for various less-than-honorable reasons. This is where looking for a continuing pattern of behavior and claims is important, and consideration of the nature of the behavior. I’m willing to give more benefit-of-the-doubt in the one time, less critical cases, and believe the accuser more when there is a pattern that emerges of more problematic behavior. This is independent of politics.
  • For many of these cases, there must be the recognition that much of this problem is “a product of those times”. Men in the 50s, 60s, and above were raised in a less enlightened era. This may explain (but does not excuse) certain comments and jokes and attitudes, although those behaviors must not be occurring today. The past cannot be changed. However, it does not excuse abuse of power relationships, true harassment and abuse, or predatory behaviors. Those were wrong then, and they are wrong now.*
  • In many cases, this new attitude will expose people who were once respected, and who now are off their pedestal. Bill Cosby is probably the best example of this — it is unclear how one views his humor and records today. Does his behavior make his stories any less funny? There are similar questions for folks like Woody Allen. How does one separate the art from the behavior of the artist? There are similar questions in the area of politics. How does one separate the political results and achievements of a politician (for example, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., John Kennedy) from their behavior? The answers will not be easy. As historians note: history is complicated, probably because it comes from humans. The founders of this country were often products of their time and owned slaves. Does that make their results any less admirable? We must recognize these people as men with strengths and weaknesses, not heroes like Superman.

Related: Actually, It’s Franken’s Monster. (The Nib)

*: In other words, at some points in time certain behaviors were acceptable, such as Rosemary pursuing her boss in How To Succeed In Business…, but are no longer acceptable today. Others, such as abuse of power relationship, predatory behavior towards minors, use of drugs to make people cooperative, non-consensual behavior — have always been wrong. In general, for those behaviors that were once accepted, our problems should be from the point of time something has been judged to be wrong in society, and there has been education that the old norms no longer are. In short, as they say with Kindergarten: “The first time you do it, it’s not a mistake.”. The corollary is: “Once you have been told it is wrong and to stop doing it, do it again and your ass is grass.”


Trust and Government / Trust in Government

Earlier today, I did a post on Facebook about the increase in the California Gas Tax (i.e., the per-gallon tax at the pump), linking to the Caltrans website on SB1. In the post, I noted: ” For all my friends who are concerned about the gas tax increase that goes into effect today (12c a gallon — c’mon folks — that’s perhaps $3 a tank — the cost of a burger at McDonalds! — you can afford that for better roads — esp. at a tank a week), here’s a great explanation of where that money is going, and how it is restricted. In particular, take a look at the list of projects being supported.”

Some of the reaction I got took me by surprise.

I don’t want to go into the specifics of the gas tax. There was a bunch of debate on how it would be spent, but that’s not the subject I want to address here. Let me repeat that for those that can’t hear: This is not a post specifically about the gas tax. Got it? Good.

What really took me by surprise was the level of distrust of Government. There was a clear and strong opinion from a segment that believed that the government would mismanage any funds that it was given, and therefore we shouldn’t let them have any. This is a position I’ve heard time and again from Conservatives and Libertarians these days. It is one reason why I believe people supported Trump — he was campaigning against the untrustworthy government. Never mind that he was equally untrustworthy and … pay no attention to that man behind the curtain … but I digress.

Now, when I was growing up, it was us Liberals that didn’t trust the government. But that’s because they were lying to us, not mispending our money.

I don’t expect anyone to change their position on trusting government from this post. Everyone can point to numerous examples where government has misused our trust. That’s not hard. Further, any parent will tell you that once trust is lost, it is very very hard to earn back. It takes time — but with government, we don’t even give it the time.

Rather, what I would like people to take away from this is as follows:

  • What is the better alternative? In many cases, these functions can’t be done privately or by individuals. Privatizing the process has not worked. We need to work to make Government better and trustworthy, not blow it up or write it off.
  • Government funding is complex. Incredibly complex. There are different pots of funds that can only be spent for specific purposes. There are rules and regulations that end up costing immense amount of money, put in place because people misused and did untrustworthy things before (one need look no further than acquisition regulations). What might seem simple and sensical to us is impossible at the government level because of regulations — and then ends up looking like waste.
  • In some cases, government behaves the way it does for the same reason you manage your house the way you do. You budget for a certain amount of money to come in based on some rosy assumptions (“Sure, I’ll get that raise.”), and then they don’t. At your house, what do you do? You defer repairing the roof or the air conditioner so you can pay your food bill. In government, you take money from transportation repair so you can pay your prison guards and highway patrol officers. Remember: It’s complicated.

Our government may be vastly imperfect and incredibly frustrating. It may do things that you don’t like. But it is still much much better than some of the alternatives out there. However, for it to work, we need to trust in it and let it work, not actively campaign to tear it down or blow it up (which, I believe, were Steve Bannon’s words, not mine).


Essay Prompts: Weekend Edition

As I read Facebook this breezy Saturday morning, I kept running into posts from my conservative friends that so, so, so made me want to respond. But were I to respond on their forums, I know what would happen: arguments, with no changing of minds. So instead, they become essay prompts on my forum:

 📖🖋️📖 Prompt #1: Privilege 📖🖋️📖

One friend of mine shared the following, ostensibly from “American News”:

“PRIVILEGE is what Stupid People call the CONSEQUENCE of other people WORKING HARDER and MAKING BETTER CHOICES than them” — Kurt Schlichter.

If you’re not familiar with Schlichter, he is a conservative columnist recruited by Breitbart, which says quite a bit.

So where do I start with this statement? First, I’ll note the “Stupid” part. There are so many of these memes that bully and call people names, and the folks posting them think it is funny. It’s a mindset that is just wrong in this day and age, but bullying is often perceived to be the answer if you can’t make a real argument and convince people with facts. In fact, following this post, this person posted another meme that said, “If you need an answer, just find yourself a drink, sit back, and post the wrong answer on Facebook. Some asshole will correct you.”. Well, I’m just that asshole — and remember that without your asshole, you’d be even fuller of ….

But I digress. Let’s get to this assertion that privilege is really just people working harder and making better choices? Is that true?

I did a quick search to find some examples of White Privilege and Male Privilege (as those are the usual privileges of concern). Let’s see if this statement is true.

The following is from “Everyday Feminism”: 10 Examples of White Privilege:

  1. I Have the Privilege of (Generally) Having a Positive Relationship with the Police. So, white people being treated differently than black people by law enforcement. Walking through an affluent neighborhood: the scruffy black guy gets harassed more than the white guy. The whole “driving while black”. The whole issue of who goes to jail more, and who gets guns drawn at them more, and who get longer sentences. Is this just that the white folks worked harder and made better choices? Nah. Not when there are instances of well educated black people being hassled, and poor white folks being ignored. Working harder and making choices doesn’t help.
  2. I Have the Privilege of Being Favored by School Authorities. Here minority students are more likely to get suspended for offenses that for white students get a warning. Islamic students bringing in science projects that are viewed as terrorism; the same project from white folks getting a pass. Is that “working harder and making better choices”. Things being equal? Nope.
  3. I Have the Privilege of Attending Segregated Schools of Affluence. This is a lot of economic privilege, which could be viewed as parents making better choices — or growing up in an environment where white folks get better jobs and higher paying jobs. But certainly white segregated schools have greater resources than black segregated school. That’s not the product of the students working harder or making better choices.
  4. I Have the Privilege of Learning about My Race in School. History courses in America typically teach the White Christian view of history. Except for perhaps one week, the contributions of minorities are not discussed. How is what we teach an example of working harder and making better choices?
  5. I Have the Privilege of Finding Children’s Books that Overwhelmingly Represent My Race. Take a look at school books and much of popular literature. What is the color of the people in the stories? Look at our media, and the complexion of broadcast TV? How is this an example of working harder and making better choices?
  6. I Have the Privilege of Soaking in Media Blatantly Biased Toward My Race. I addressed this in the last item, but our media is predominately white. There is nothing about working harder and making better choices here. Even if you were to somehow argue that for news anchors, it doesn’t explain why scripted drama doesn’t reflect the complexion of the country. Further, think about this: look at the crime drama you see. What is the typical complexion of the criminal, and what is the complexion of law enforcement? Working harder and making better choices?
  7. I Have the Privilege of Escaping Violent Stereotypes Associated with My Race. Simple question: What makes you more nervous? A black guy with a visible gun or a white guy with a visible gun? How is your reaction “working harder and making better choices”? Same thing for the middle eastern guy buying the fertilizer and nails at the hardware store, vs. the white guy buying the same.
  8. I Have the Privilege of Playing the Colorblind Card, Wiping the Slate Clean of Centuries of Racism. This is attempting to ignore racism by not seeing color. In fact, the statement we’re examining is an attempt to be colorblind — to argue the issue isn’t racism, but something else. How is the ability to attempt to do that “working harder and making better choices”?
  9. I Have the Privilege of Being Insulated from the Daily Toll of Racism. Every day, minorities suffer little indignities: the nervous look, the lower pay, and so forth. How is that “working harder and making better choices”?
  10. I Have the Privilege of Living Ignorant of the Dire State of Racism Today. As a white person, you can easily go through your life not worrying about being hassled by law enforcement, confident that you can get in a door for an interview, that you’ll have the ability to get a loan and go to a college of your choice. All this because you’re the majority skin color, not because you work harder or make better choices.

When we look at male privilege, we can easily see differences. How does “working harder and make better choices” influence the fact that it costs more to dry-clean a woman’s shirt than a man’s shirt. That a woman doing the same job with the same education gets paid less. That opinions from a woman of equal training and knowledge to a man get discounted?

Privilege is not the result of working harder and making better choices. Privilege is having an easier life for no reason other than your pigment or gender.

 📖🖋️📖 Prompt #2: Racism 📖🖋️📖 

In the last day or two, I saw two statements that invoked the same reaction. Both were in response to pictures of the congresswoman who had been with the war widow when the President called. One shared a quote from @RealJamesWoods that said: “When #Democrats start wheeling out clowns dressed as saloon hookers, they are trying desperately to swerve away from the news.” The other said “How anyone takes seriously a person wearing a plastic cowboy hat is beyond me…”

As Steve Martin once said, “Excuuuuse me.”

Since when did we start judging the value of a person based on what they look like or what they are wearing?

Isn’t that just racism dressed up? Isn’t that just sexism? I judge Donald Trump not because of his ill fitting suits, how he looks on the golf course, his odd hair, or his ill-fitting tie. I judge him based on what he says or does.

Disagree with this congresswomen based on what she said, fine (even though her story has been verified). But don’t go down the path of discounting her because she wears a silly hat. Hell, you’d need to write off most of Texas if you were going to do that.



Essay Prompt: ‘We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values’

userpic=trumpA friend of mine from our synagogue brought to my attention a wonderful article that serves as an essay prompt. This article is about Trump (heh heh, I first typed Tramp) attending the Voters Values conference — an evangelical voting group — and wading into the culture wars. Some relevant quotes from the article:

“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” Trump said to applause, before slamming people who don’t say “Merry Christmas.”

“They don’t use the word Christmas because it is not politically correct,” Trump said, complaining that department stores will use red and Christmas decorations but say “Happy New Year.” “We’re saying Merry Christmas again.”

I’m sorry, but what Trump is promoting is NOT Judeo-Christian values. If it was, it wouldn’t be shaming Jews who say “Happy Chanukkah” or “Happy Holidays”. In fact, it isn’t even Christian values, which are much more accepting of people and socially forward. It is specifically Evangelical Christian values, which promote the idea that you are not saved by Jesus unless you have accepted him and all the tenets of their version of Christianity — and to many extents, it goes beyond that to White Evangelical values, which view Jesus as a white man, and view every other religion and skin color as not worthy of being saved, and hence inferior and of no value.

This is a view that was related last night on the new Fox series The Orville, with a storyline about an alien race who believed that its religious doctrine gave it the right of superiority of other races and species. It was the only species with a soul, and that gave it the right to destroy anything it deemed inferior, and to devalue anything developed by a soul-less people. The skin of these people was pale white, and what destroys them is transparency.

I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, but the values you and your core followers are trying to protect are not Judeo-Christian, and are barely even Christian, based on my understanding of Christianity.

  • Judaism teaches the value of human life, and putting the life of the mother (who can go on to have more children) over the life of an unborn child. Abortion is permitted, and birth control is permitted. Your actions to limit both are against Jewish thought.
  • Judaism teaches the value of human life, and thus, the value of healthcare. If it is within your power to provide such care, you do. Your policies are actually making health care less available and of lower quality, injuring life.
  • Judaism constantly reminds us that we should always remember that we were once slaves, and watch out for the poor among us. It also teaches that the greatest charity is that which comes when you don’t know the giver. Thus, Judaism supports all the social programs that provide safety nets without guilt or shaming. You want to dismantle those programs.
  • Judaism emphasizes the importance of Justice. You work against that when you mistreat minorities and others with pre-existing conditions (race, sex, orientation, religion, gender).
  • Judaism understand the importance of the separation of Church and State, and that the State should not be imposing any particular set of religious values. Whenever that has happened, it has been bad for the Jews. Yet what you have been proposing and encouraging is just that: enforcing values that are not Judaism on Jews.

Further, your administration has been tacitly encouraging white supremacists,  neo-Nazis, and antisemites. Instead of harshly condemning them, you equivocate and indicate that both sides are at fault. Since when are Jews worshipping at a synagogue in Charlottesville at fault for their worship, worthy of having antisemites with swastikas pointing weaponry at them. Is that a Judeo-Christian value that you uphold?

Would you stand against mistreatment of Jews by law enforcement — if it came to that — just as we’ve seen you standing up against law enforcement’s mistreatment of blacks and hispanics and people from the Middle East? Oh, right, you haven’t done that.

Would we see you speaking out against any double standard for serial sexual abuse and harassment? You’re quick to condemn Harvey Weinstein — a white Jew and a liberal. But where is the acceptance of your own sordid history of equivalent or worse behavior? If it disqualifies men like Weinstein and Weiner, why isn’t it disqualifying people like Newt Gingrich and you? It is acceptable if it is done by a White Christian, because we know they are superior and thus have the right to do so? Is that the Judeo-Christian value that you defend?

You constantly speak out wanting to muzzle the media, but what media do you want to muzzle, and what is that code for? It is a coincidence that the organizations you want to muzzle are the ones not espousing a strictly evangelical-supportive view? When you listen to the hateful rhetoric of antisemites, who are they saying controls the media organizations you hate, vs. the media organizations they love. Is that a Judeo-Christian value?

In truth, Mr. Trump, the only value you respect is the value that lines your pocket or massages your ego. But the gospel of prosperity — and especially Trump prosperity — is not a Judeo-Christian value. It is worship of the self, without any regard for your place in the Kingdom to Come. It is living for what you can get now, not the value you would have in the afterlife by living as Jesus taught, caring about others and going out of your way to life up the whores in the street. For someone who purports to be a Christian, where is your demonstration of Christian values (as opposed to your pandering for Christian votes).

Mr. Trump, there is no “war on Christmas” (except by those commercial entities who have made the focus profit, instead of the birth of Jesus). I won’t get upset if you wish me a Merry Christmas. But I’ll get really upset if you shame me for wishing you a Happy Chanukkah back. I’ll get really upset if you push your evangelical values on me claiming they are Jewish or even real Christian values.

In the episode of The Orville last night, the Krill were destroyed by sunlight. In political parlance, sunlight laws open up what is being done for all to see — no secret meetings, no secret agendas, no countries behind the scenes working on other agendas. Mr. Trump — you are Krill — and continued sunlight by the media and investigations will be your downfall, especially as people learn the truth about what you are doing.


Essay Prompts and Culture Wars

userpic=divided-nationI love my strongly Conservative friends. They are such a reliable source of essay prompts and blog material. Today’s catalyst was the following:

What’s the end game, lefties? What’s your desired outcome in this cultural war you’ve waging? Is it to take over everything in America, run every institution in your own image, whatever that is? Or is it to destroy them all, as is now happening with the BSA and the NFL?

There is so much I could unpack in this comment, such as the fact that the BSA is actually keeping boys and girls in separate Cub Scout dens, or that one would think that the values of the Boy Scouts would be values they would want girls to have as well, or the fact that what is happening with the NFL is not an attack on the anthem, but rather kneeling for the freedoms that we pay lip service to in the anthem, but that we don’t see on the streets.

But that’s not what caught my attention. It was the phrase “culture war.”

We have so many wars in this country: culture wars, a war on Christmas, a war on values, a war on women, a war on drugs — one might forget what war is. It is not a heated political discussion. It is a dirty battle in which people not only may die, but do die, from the actions of the enemy. It was World War II and the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and the War in Afghanistan. It is people coming back mangled and in pieces, or in coffins. I know war. The culture war is not a war, and you have no right to trivialize war and its horrors by equating the two.

But if this is to be a “war”, exactly what is at stake here? You notice that they never quite say. A recent This American Life touched upon the issue quite well, however.  What is being attacked is the traditional “American” culture of the early 20th Century: a culture where whites had unquestioned privilege, where women were second class citizens, where blacks and minorities were less than third-class citizens. It is a culture where sex was binary, relationships were normative, society was clearly Christian if not Protestant, and other religions were second-class or at least subject to prejudice. This was Jim Crow and Antisemitism. But of course, one cannot say that one longs for such things — there is the belief that the “thought police” (otherwise known as the dreaded Liberal) will come for you. So what you long for — what you say is under attack — is American Culture and American Values.

Look at the examples in the essay prompt. The kneeling football players are “insulting the anthem” by standing up for the rights of blacks to walk and drive in our cities without harrassment. In their eyes, the anthem stands for the values above, and standing up for the rights of minorities goes against those values.

The BSA? Well it is those pesky girls invading our boys only spaces. The Boy Scouts — in their eyes, mind you, not the eyes of the BSA — is where boys can be boys, and learn the right values such as how to treat women. I wonder if Harvey Weinstein or even our humble President was a Boy Scout. After all, we all remember what he tried to teach the Boy Scouts.

The folks who are up in arms about a culture war appear to want the culture as it was in the days of Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Workhouses for the poor. Women either put up on a pedestal for modesty and virtue, or treated as sluts and whores. White men as the unquestioned Gods of society, unquestioned pillars of virtue. Society as a Christian one, with Christian values and feigned charity towards all, but all the wealth for the upper crust. That is the fictional movie image. For most of those living it, life was shit.

We are not dealing with culture wars. We’re dealing with cultural shift. We’re dealing with a world that has come to realize that all people have worth and value. We’re dealing with a world that has slowly, begrudgingly, come to realize that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with respect, irrespective of those aspects they can’t control, such as skin color, sex, gender, orientation, social strata, religion, genetic predispositions — otherwise known as pre-existing conditions. We aspire for healthcare independent of pre-existing conditions. Why can’t we aspire for a society that does the same.

It is especially significant to see such an essay prompt on today, National Coming Out Day, when we should feel free to say what we are without fear of recrimination or reaction. Coming out is more than just stating your orientations or attractions — it is announcing to the world a public acknowledgement of who and what you are.

So, in that spirit, and in the spirit of making clear what side of the “culture war” I’m on: I’m a clear and present Liberal. I’m a Humphrey-ite Democrat. I believe in those progressive values that all are valued, that your right to practice your religion and beliefs ends where my right to practice mine begins. I believe that my body is my body, and your body is your body, and her body is her body, and none of us should be telling or legislating what we can be doing with it.  I believe we all have to stand up for what we believe in.

So is there a culture war? Yes, but not in the way you think. It is not the white patriarchal culture that is dying however. It is women who can’t get abortions. People that can’t afford healthcare or housing. LGBTQ…. who are being beaten in the streets or blown up in the clubs. It is blacks dying in the streets at the hands of law enforcement, or minorities dying at the hands of immigration officials. It is those who are defending the “traditional” culture who are perpetrating the war: they are bringing physically lethal weaponry to battle that most dangerous weapon of all: the idea of equality and justice.

So, how did I do on the essay, teach?


It’s So 18th Century

Sometimes, all it takes is a phrase to start my mind going. In this case, it was a post by a friend of a meme that said: “There is something wrong in a society in which guns and ammunition are a right, but healthcare is a privilege.” My response was that it sounded so 18th Century. I meant that in all seriousness. Let me explain.

Like anything, our country and its governing documents are a product of the time it was born, just like (although many won’t admit it) the Bible was written through the eyes of the times in which it was written. Reform Judaism, the movement to which I belong, teaches that we must continually reinterpret those timeless lessons for today’s times and values.

Consider when this country was formed, and when the Bill of Rights was written. There was persecution from England against speech and the practice of religion. There was regular quartering of soldiers in homes, and the British were confiscating guns and disbanding militias so the the people couldn’t fight back. There was slavery, and state militias were being used to enforce owner’s rights. Women were second class citizens with defined roles, and in many states, non-whites were not even citizens. Gay relationships were certainly in the closet, and as for the rest of TQ…. — you didn’t hear about it. Healthcare was non-existent or poor, and land was cheap. Anyone could be a self-starter, and redefine their identity. The world was much simpler, and the weapons less powerful. There was a fixed aristocracy, and the power of what we now call Evangelical Christianity wasn’t there. Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists. Society was such as non-Christians were fewer and less well integrated. Eastern religions? What were they? Non-Europeans or non-Africans. Miniscule populations at the time in the Americas.

This was the environment in which our Constitution and the Bill of Rights was written. It reflected the humans that wrote it, who wrote it with their immediate needs and concerns in mind. It was not intended to speak to all times; it was known by its founders to be imperfect. Consider this: We can amend the Constitution. We can’t amend the Bible. Whose authors thought it was perfect?

We’re in the 21st Century. We need a Bill of Rights for today, that reflect the timeless notion in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” and in the Preamble to the Constitution: ” establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”.

What should be in this bill of rights (we can argue about citizens vs residents vs …):

  • To ensure life: All citizens must have access to a basic level of health care and preventive medicine: not only to protect their lives, but to ensure that which is communicable does not infect others.
  • To ensure life: All citizens must have a basic livable income, sufficient to provide shelter and sustenance.
  • To ensure liberty:  All people in the United States must be treated equally, irrespective of any status by birth or inheritance: religion, race, gender, orientation, sex, size, or differences in ability.
  • To ensure liberty: All citizens must have a freedom of privacy in their personal affairs.
  • To ensure liberty: All people must have the freedom to practice their religion inasmuch as it does not impinge on the rights of the others to practice their religion.
  • To ensure the pursuit of happiness: Gun ownership should be permitted but controlled to ensure the public safety: (including distinctions on the type of weapons, regular training and mental health checks, storage rules, and strict limitations on non-hunting or self-defense weapons.

Those are just a start. I’m sure you could think of more, including many of our current limits on the Government imposing its religion or a pre-set morality.




What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

userpic=divided-nationA few days ago, prompted by a post from an Evangelical Conservative friend of mine that mass murders were only committed by Islamic Terrorists or the Radical Liberals, and the Vegas Shooter had to be one or the other, I said:

There are times my very Conservative friends make posts that infuriate me, and make me start typing a comment … which I promptly delete because I know it is like teaching pigs to sing (and I’m not calling them pigs, only using the expression): I’ll only get frustrated by the response, which won’t change anything. Thus, I don’t bother with those discussions. It makes me appreciate other friends at different parts of the Conservative spectrum, with whom we can have an intelligent discussion, learn from each other, and often find some middle ground.

In response to this, we’ve had a very good discussion over on Facebook on both the differences and similarities between left and right, and including agreement with my sentiment above from people who I consider to be on the both far ends of the political spectrum. Then, this morning, while reading my RSS feeds, NPR pops up an interesting article about now nothing divides Americans more sharply than politics. It noted the following in it’s leed:

Pew has been measuring attitudes on policy issues and political values dating back to 1994, and its latest check-in finds — perhaps unsurprisingly — that Americans are more divided than ever.

“The fact that Republicans and Democrats differ on these fundamental issues is probably not a surprise, but the magnitude of the difference is striking, and particularly how the differences have grown in recent years and where they’ve grown,” Carroll Doherty, Pew’s director of political research and one of the authors of the study, told NPR.

We are divided, and we’ve gotten so entrenched in our bubbles and our labels that we not only fail to recognize people as individuals with individual views, not party positions, but we fail to listen. We engage in discussions not to listen and learn from the other side, but to convince them that is why THEY are wrong and WE are right. That’s wrong.  There are very few issues that are simple binary — most are complicated with nuances, and multiple mitigations to address areas of concern.

Then, while reading another burst of my RSS feeds, there was an interesting opinion piece in the Jewish Journal: “Toward a Radical Middle“. In it, the author talks about how in the Facebook era, there were things on the Left that you were not allowed to criticize; similarly, for those on the Right, there were things you couldn’t criticize. Polarized much? One reformer noted in the article coined the term “regressive left” to describe the illiberal takeover of the left, the slow chipping away of every liberal value.

What I really liked was the article’s conclusion:

How do we get out of this mess? For one, we need to return to real — classical — liberalism. But what does that mean?

The easiest way to describe real liberalism is that there are certain principles — freedom of speech; freedom of religion; a dedication to liberty, justice and individuality — that are nonnegotiable.

But — and here’s a very big but: Liberalism allows for policy differences. You and I don’t have to agree on immigration, tax reform, even abortion — but our arguments must be rooted in liberal principles. Freedom of speech, for instance, involves defending the right of others to express their opinions, even if we disagree with them.

But No. 2: Politics need not color our culture or our lives. You can watch a movie or see an art show and — get this — just enjoy them, even if they have no connection whatsoever to social concerns.

Finally, But No. 3: Along with rights come responsibilities. There is a set of values attached to liberalism, what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the content of your character.”

Because of how skewed the political spectrum is, classical liberalism now sits in the center. That’s OK. It is precisely this ideology that can create common ground between the right and the left and nurture a saner society.

Call it the rebellion of the radical middle.

I, for one, look forward to that saner society, vs. the dysfunctional one we have today.


Messages and Messengers

userpic=divided-nationWith the upcoming publication of Hillary Clinton’s book, the debate has started up again on the role of Bernie Sanders on giving Trump the election. Per CNN: “In it, according to excerpts posted by a group of Clinton supporters, she criticizes her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, for running to be the Democratic nominee while not actually being a Democrat, and for targeting her in a campaign of character assassination, instead of doing a deep dive into policy.” This notion, predictably, has Sanders supporters responding on FB, and has reignited the debate about the election once again. Here are some of my thoughts, so I don’t have to keep posting them again and again … and again:

  • Get Over It! Much as I don’t like the result, the Electoral College voted and gave us Trump. Hillary Clinton lost, and we should just let her fade into the background and focus on the next generation of candidates.
  • …but don’t get full of yourself. However, the election was not a Trump landslide, despite what he said. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote; Trump was more strategic in where he won. Playing to Trump’s base is not what the country voted for.
  • Bernie Sanders could not have won. Sanders had a great very progressive message. Despite the positives in that message, he was doomed from the start. As we saw recently in Virginia, there are loads of people out there that hate both Jews and Blacks. Sanders was an ex-Socialist, New York Jew. This country was not ready for that messenger. They were barely ready for a Black President, and as we saw from the election, really weren’t ready for a woman President. Much as we think we’ve come a long way, the battle for true equality — and universal acceptance of that equality — isn’t over for different religions or women (and certainly not for the newer protected categories, including LGBTQ etc.).
  • Hillary cost Hillary the election. Although Sanders had an impact on Clinton, certainly, it is unclear if he cost her the election. What really lost the election was Hillary’s presumption of winning vs. hard work. She didn’t think strategically and ensure she had the electoral votes. It was the tortoise vs. the hare.
  • Messenger, not Message. What got Trump elected was not his message, it was the messenger (or for some, hatred of the other messenger). He was the “anti-establishment, anti-government, shake things up” candidate — who spoke off the cuff in the language of the people. He excited a segment of the population that hadn’t gotten excited before (Alt-Right), and implicitly gave them permission to enthusiastically go for him — in the strategic states. [ETA: He expressed broad ideas and goals with few specifics, letting people trust in the power of him to get it done.] Clinton was not exciting; she was more of the same. [ETA: That is: Detailed policy wonk positions, playing up experience in the status quo, dull political speech, yada, yada.] Trump (likely aided by Russia and social media) played up those flaws. Clinton didn’t excite voters, and the segment she spoke to weren’t the types that got enthusiastic. Sanders’ supporters were enthusiastic, but they couldn’t get enthusiastic about anyone other than Sanders, so they sat on hands at the general election (or — forfend! — voted for Trump because they hated Hillary so) — essentially, putting their dislike of the messenger over their like of the message (much of which Clinton adopted).
  • Although the Endpoints are Excitable, the Bulk is in the Middle. The endpoints — the alt-right, the arch-conservatives, the Sanders progressives, the semi-Socialists — make the most noise and think they are the most important, but they aren’t the bulk of the electorate. Those in the middle are — those who Bill Clinton, and to a lesser extent, Barack Obama — played to. The problem is: the gerrymandering and the nature of the primaries gives the edges a stronger voice in selecting the candidates these days, leaving the electorate to choose between the extremes. It often isn’t a good choice.

Post-election, it is clear that not much has changed. Trump’s base loves him no matter what he does. The rest of the Republican party doesn’t like Trump, but has no viable Republican alternative — and they won’t go for a Democrat. Meanwhile, the Democrats have lived up to their reputation of not being an organized political party. Neither Sanders or Clinton is a viable party leader — Sanders because (a) he’ll be too old, and (b) he isn’t really a Democrat, and Clinton because, well, she’s Clinton and folks are tired of dynasties (i.e., Clinton / Bush). The candidates that have been floated all have their flaws. The country is clearly not ready for another racial minority or a woman, and needs a more “status quo” (i.e., sigh, white male) for a cycle or two — which means both Booker or Warren, while great with their messages, are stronger in the Senate. It also excludes folks like Kamala Harris or Antonio Villagrosa. Much as I like Al Franken, he has a Sanders problem — Jewish, as well as being a former actor and comedian. The Democrats need to find a suitable candidate and start grooming and promoting them now — and, alas, by suitable I mean white, male, and Christian. A candidate who will make the country feel safe in the messenger, so the message can be heard. They haven’t done that, and looking at their bench of up and comers, they don’t have a lot of choice.

Actually, they do have one good possibility — Hillary Clinton’s former running mate. If he isn’t too tainted by that association, Tim Kaine of Virginia has the right credentials. Democratic, white, and Catholic. Able to speak to hispanics. Good on policy. A former governor. But surprisingly, I haven’t seen his name come up at all.