🗯️ Do The Math

Yesterday, writing about the importance of a free press and depending our mainstream media, I emphasized the phrase “follow the evidence”. That’s what scientists and journalists do. Today, I’m encouraging you to do the math. This is because our free press, which follows the evidence, is highlighting the fact that online trolls are using immigration as a wedge issue for November elections. Here’s a slightly edited (to add context) quote from the article:

In a new report, the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan Washington think tank that partnered with Facebook, concludes that the shuttered pages and accounts [that were part of a covert operation to stoke racial tensions in the United States] were run by or linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the troll farm in St. Petersburg that U.S. officials say meddled in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

One of the pages had an administrator from the Russian agency — “the most direct link between the recent accounts and earlier troll farm operations,” the report states. Two of the pages, including Aztlán Warriors, were also linked to Twitter accounts believed to have been created by their operatives.

The Russian agency and 13 of its employees were indicted in February on charges brought by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on allegations that they sought to interfere “with U.S. elections and political processes.” U.S. officials have since said that Kremlin-backed groups have continued to spread mayhem in American politics.

The nation’s volatile immigration debate has amplified online, researchers warned, and foreign operatives and homegrown trolls are using it as a political wedge ahead of the November elections. The report said the online disinformation campaign was likely to grow more sophisticated, with bad actors tailoring their posts, videos and other content to target communities of color — and to hide who is controlling the message.

“Covert influence campaigns, some steered from abroad, are using disinformation to drive Americans further apart, and weaken the trust in the institutions on which democracy stands,” the report warns.

During the upcoming election, you will see Internet sources and politicians urging you to fear the immigrant. They will make you fear that they are coming to take your jobs. They will make you fear that all sorts of evil people are streaming across the board, hoards coming to do unspeakable things, and that they are the only people standing between you and the unthinkable them. They will try to make you believe that only by electing them will you keep your communities safe. They will play on your fear. They will play on your nationalism. They will play identity politics.

But do the math.

Ask yourself how many immigrants — legal or otherwise — have come across the border over the years. Look at the percentages of documented vs. undocumented, and how they have changed. Look at the overall percentages of good immigrants vs. bad. When you look at the “bad” category, make a distinction between those whose only crime is crossing the border without papers vs. the more violent crimes of the MS13 variety. I believe that you will find that — with the extensive vetting we do — the amount of “bad actors” in documented immigrants is minuscule. There is probably greater risk of getting hit by a car when crossing the street, or getting in a car accident. For the undocumented immigrants, the percentage is likely a bit higher, but I do not believe it is a large percentage of those crossing. The fear is being magnified out of proportion to the risk.

Are they coming to take your jobs? To answer that, ask yourself: Why would an employer hire an immigrant over you? If it is because they have more skills or are harder working or have a better work ethic — can you blame the employer? That’s something that is in your power to fix — capitalism means the employer wants the best employee possible. They also want that employee at the lowest possible wage. Are you willing to work for that low wage? If not — don’t blame the immigrant, blame the employer. Just as you’ll order from Amazon rather than patronize the local merchant because of price, the employer is simply being a capitalist. Do you want to solve the problem? Raise the minimum wage to something that you will work for, making the playing field even.

What about those undocumented immigrants? Surely they want your job? First, note that an employer is taking a risk hiring undocumented workers. What makes it worth the risk? The fact that they can use fear to exploit them further: not giving them legal benefits or legal wages, making them work longer hours, locking them in buildings, giving them bad working conditions. You wouldn’t work under those conditions, so they aren’t taking your job. But what the employer is doing is wrong. Again, blame the employer, not the undocumented worker. The worker is just trying to feed themselves and their family. It is the employer that is taking advantage of them — again, doing what employers do under capitalism: get the employee who does the most work for the lowest price.

Immigrants have built this country. All of your major companies and industries in this country were started by immigrants (or (children of)n>0 immigrants). Immigrants run your corner markets and restaurants. They bring new ideas and hard work, and truly appreciate the freedoms that we have. They may come from different places, and may workship in different ways, and may speak different languages, but that diversity gives this country strength. Do the math. Don’t fear the immigrant.

Do, however, fear the politicians that play on your fear and try to manipulate your emotions. Fear the Internet sites that do the same, for an agenda that they do not publicize. Follow the evidence, and the sunlight and wisdom it brings. Don’t give in to the fear.

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🗯️ Follow the Evidence

Reading today’s non-editorial about the importance of a Free Press in the LA Times this morning* got me thinking about journalism and science. Both are evidence and science based (which is perhaps why the President hates both). Both go wherever the evidence takes them, even if it goes against the theory they are trying to provide or the story they want to tell. Both focus on fact, not fiction. Both respect peer review and independent confirmation of facts. Both encourage others to verify their results and findings.
——————
(*: Wherein the LA Times said, a free press is important, but dammit we’re so free that we’re not going to let anyone else tell us when to editorialize about it)

Both also have factions that push fictional science for agendas, that publish papers where the evidence is questionable or the conclusions are unsupported by the data, but that purport to be true (cough, anti-vaxxers, cough). These factions have ardent believers, who through intricate conspiracy theories believe the world is against them because the non-believers dispute their fraudulent findings. Even when confronted with evidence from multiple independent reputable sources, they cry “fake” at the truth, put on their tin-foil hats, and continue to march along the path of ignorance.

But focusing on the evidence, following the evidence, is the hallmark of both. So let’s follow the evidence:

  • Hillary Clinton. “Lock her up”, they say. “Investigate her crimes”, they say. “Follow the evidence”, I say. There have been numerous investigations — both Congressional and FBI — into her purported crimes. There has been Congressional testimony. However, there has been no sufficiently strong evidence uncovered — evidence that will stand up in court — to indict and try. Without evidence, in this country, we do not lock people up. Without a trial, with sufficiently strong evidence to convince a jury, we do not lock people up. But Congress is free — if there is sufficient evidence — to start up a new investigation. Congress is also controlled by the party that ran against Hillary. But they do not start the investigation, even though they have the majority to do so. What does that evidence say about the evidence they do have? Conclusion: There is insufficient evidence to investigate further.
  • Robert Mueller. “It’s a witch hunt”, they say. “It’s a fake investigation”, they say. “Kill the investigation,” they say. “Follow the evidence”, I say. If, as with Hillary Clinton, there is insufficient evidence to indict, there will be no indictments. If there was nothing wrong, why fear the investigation. After all, did Hillary Clinton say “Stop the investigation, it’s a witch hunt”? Hillary Clinton knew she did no wrong, and thus had nothing to fear from the investigation. Donald Trump is surely better than Hillary, and should be able withstand a deep investigation. After all, if he did nothing wrong, then there will be no evidence he did nothing wrong. Follow the evidence. [Never mind that the evidence is certainly finding indictable offenses from those under him, and it is certainly finding evidence of contact between the Trump team and Russia, and it certainly finding evidence that Russia wanted to elect Trump and manipulated — through propaganda and cyberattack — the election to that end. There may not be collusion in the end, but they were working towards the same goal, and the evidence uncovered is certainly troubling and would be a major problem is any other President had done it — and that should be the standard.]
  • Fake News. There have been numerous cries from the President that any news media that reports unflattering stories about him is fake. However, the hallmark of a strong democracy is its free press that investigates its leaders, that reports on their follies, foibles, mistakes, and yes, crimes. It has been that way in America since its birth — some press more muckraking and sensational than others, perhaps. But is mainstream media fake? “Follow the evidence”, I say. If the press was fake, there would be ample evidence that what was reported was false. There would be no videos or reporting to back it up. There would be discrepancies in the various reports — after all, if it is false, then multiple parties need to come up with the exact same lie and stick to it, without variance. There would be no corroboration from multiple sources. But that’s not the case. The essence of what is reported is based on evidence from multiple sources, and multiple journalistic outlets investigate and come up with the same stories. That’s preponderance of the evidence. Sure, some outlets may have more spin on the news than others, and some spin left, and some spin right. But spin is not falsehood — it is reviewing the evidence and drawing a conclusion. And even then, the spin can be confirmed with evidence, and one needs to look at how the same evidence is interpreted by multiple sources, and look at where the consensus is. Doing that make clear that the bulk of what is out there in the news — I’d guess 80% to 85% percent, with the fringes being non-journalistic internet sources — are not fake news. That also puts the President’s claims — and the claims of groups like Infowars — into the fictional category.

If you take away something from today, it should be the importance of evidence-based reporting — be it science or journalism. It should be the importance of peer review and independent confirmation. It should be that our news media is not fake, and those making the claim are doing it to both push their particular agenda, and to create a smokescreen to hide the truth of that agenda from you.

 

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🗯️ Do You Own My Heart, or Is It Just a Long Term Lease?

A 🎩tip to my friend Howard for finding this article for me: Americans own less stuff because of the internet, and that’s a worry. Alas, it is paywalled, so I’ll excerpt some of its concerns, which focus on “the erosion of personal ownership and what that will mean for our loyalties to traditional American concepts of capitalism and private property.”:

The main culprits for the change are software and the internet. For instance, Amazon’s Kindle and other methods of online reading have revolutionised how Americans consume text. Fifteen years ago, people typically owned the books and magazines they were reading. Much less so now. If you look at the fine print, it turns out that you do not own the books on your Kindle. Amazon.com does. […] We used to buy DVDs or video cassettes; now viewers stream movies or TV shows with Netflix. Even the company’s disc-mailing service is falling out of favour. Music lovers used to buy compact discs; now Spotify and YouTube are more commonly used to hear our favourite tunes. The great American teenage dream used to be to own your own car. That is dwindling in favour of urban living, greater reliance on mass transit, cycling, walking and, of course, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

This is true even with devices you purportedly “own”, like your cell phone or computer, it notes:

What about your iPhone, that all-essential life device? Surely you own that? Well, sort of. When Apple decides to change the operating software, sooner or later you have to go along with what they have selected. Gmail is due to change its overall look and functionality, maybe for the better, but again eventually this choice will not be yours either: It’s Google’s. The very economics of software encourage standardisation, and changes over time, so de facto you rent much of what you use rather than owning it. I typed the draft of this column using Microsoft Word, and sooner or later my contract to use it will expire and I will have to renew. […]  As for that iPhone, it is already clear that you do not have a full legal right to repair it, and indeed more and more devices are sold to consumers without giving them corresponding rights to fix or alter those goods and services. John Deere tractors are sold to farmers with plenty of software, and farmers have to hack into the tractor if they wish to fix it themselves. There is now a small but burgeoning “right to repair” political movement.

I’ve had some similar concerns. Usually, it hits me with respect to music. After all, I own an iPod Classic with lots of music (approaching 45,000 songs). Some of these are recorded from LPs, some are from CDs, and some are digitally source. I take care to use a source that gets me the files without their controlling them, but I’m still being held hostage to the format of the files (MP3, M4A) and having a device that can translate them, and having a player that can play them — which Apple could invalidate quite easily. The only sure things are my LPs and CDs (if the latter don’t rot away).

We’re seeing an increased emphasis from the younger generation (hey, you, get off of my law) on downsizing and getting rid of stuff. Whereas we amassed large collections of books, they are being digitized — and that puts them in the hostage category to digital formats and readers. Paper wasn’t subject to that.

We’re being pushed away from personal vehicle ownership. Companies want us to lease our cars and replace them. Kids in urban areas even eschew cars, going for shared rides.

Housing is similar. High housing prices push people to lease instead of buy; this is the norm in New York where people are long term renters of apartments. Services like AirBNB take that to a new level. You’ve never owned your home on the Internet: Domain names have annual fees and are essentially leased — there is no perpetual domain names.

Now ask yourself: What does this do to the American notion of private property and its ownership? Are we moving to a model of shared services and shared ownership? The economic divide seems to be pushing things that way, with the top economic individuals and companies owning more and more, and we’re just leasing it from them. After all, for the person selling something, private ownership is horrible. You sell it once, get your price, and make no more income from it. But if you lease it or license it, you have a continuing income stream.

I’ve seen this in moving my wife’s computer to Windows 10. Whereas before I would buy the software, now I’m subscribing and getting the annual fees.

So what are your thoughts? Should we be worried about the erosion of private ownership and the move to subscription, streaming, licensing, and leases?

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Nationalism and Democracy

Yesterday, I read an excellent article in the New York Times by Max Fisher about Israel’s new law restricting national self-determination to the Jewish people (making the non-Jewish population second-class citizens in their own country). The article started by noting the path Israel chose after the 6-day war in 1967, and the warning by David Ben-Gurion:

But Ben-Gurion insisted that Israel give up the territories it had conquered. If it did not, he said, occupation would distort the young state, which had been founded to protect not just the Jewish people but their ideals of democracy and pluralism.

The article had a very interesting note — almost prophetic:

Above all, the law may be a choice between two visions of Israel that have come into growing tension. American diplomats have long issued a version of Ben-Gurion’s warning: If Israel did not make peace with the Palestinians, they said, it would have to choose between its dual identities as a Jewish state and democratic one.

Polls suggest that Israelis have come to agree: Growing numbers see their country as facing a choice between being Jewish first or democratic first. And for many on the political right, the choice is identity first.

This is, in many ways, the same dilemma America is facing  — and has face, after 9/11. There are those in this country who feel the “traditional” identity of this country is being lost (this identity typically being defined as “white, European, Christian, predominantly male”, although that is hardly constitutional, and has been changing since the end of the Civil War). They feel the battle is being lost, and thus elected a champion to preserve that identity. He is making the choice of identity first, democracy whatever. This is clear from his policies and his practices and his statements.

The article I read noted the tensions we are facing:

The modern era endowed countries with two rights, supposedly unassailable, that turned out to exist in tension. The right of national self-determination envisioned states as unified collectives; one nation for one people. And the right of democracy prescribed equal participation for all, including in defining the nation’s character.

Idealistic world leaders who set out those rights a century ago imagined countries that would be internally homogeneous and static. But reality has proved messier. Borders do not perfectly align with populations. People move. Identities shift or evolve. What then?

[…]

Civil rights movements challenged countries to broaden national identities long associated with whiteness. The end of colonialism saw mass migration of non-Europeans to Europe; within former colonies, conflicts erupted over who belonged and did not.

The democratic world arrived, in the 1960s, at an informal consensus: If the requirements of democracy and national identity clash, the first should prevail. That didn’t mean abandoning national identity, but it did mean softening how it was understood and maintained.

The article goes on exploring the situation in Israel (which is well worth reading — and troubling, for those of us that supported the Israel of the 1960s, but are less sure about supporting at least the government of the Israel of today). It concludes on this note:

Democracy’s growth has stalled globally. Though the causes for this are not fully known, the trend is marked, in part, by once-healthy democracies rolling backward. Conventional wisdom holds that this is because of mismanagement or the self-interest of leaders. But maybe this is wrong.

Forced to choose between putting democracy or identity first, people may not always pick democracy.

Here in America, we are at that crossroads. Do we put identity first, or democracy first? Do we do whatever we need to do to preserve the power and privilege of white – Christian – heterosexual – male – European, which is the path of Trump? Do we preserve that which makes America strong — and makes America America — its democracy, and the melting pot of cultures that move and morph over time.

Me? I’m choosing Democracy. America is that Chicken Tikka Quesedilla I love from Indy-Mex. It is sushi with cream cheese and lox. It is a pastrami taco. It is a combination of cultures, all equal, all contributing.

All welcome.

P.S.: This Vox article shows my impression of Trump supporters is not wrong: “And the last line, about “the survival of the Christian nation,” is crucial to doing that. Because this sense of existential threat is, according to the best research we have, a vital reason why Trump’s brand of white identity politics has attracted so many followers — and will likely continue to attract more in the future.” Essentially, the upturning of what groups are in the “majority” in America has previously-majority groups facing an existential threat.

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Do the Right Thing

userpic=divided-nationThis is a note to all my Republican and Conservative friends, in response to some posts that I have seen this morning about the Democratic reaction to the meetings in Helsinki.

I want you to set aside, for the duration of this post, all your hatred of the left. Set aside your seething anger, your belief against anything Democrats might have to say.

I want you to imagine it is 1980, an election year, with Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan. The FBI and CIA uncover evidence that the Soviet Union has been meddling — not attempting to meddle, but actual meddling through our media outlets and manipulation of Americans — in the election. It didn’t sway the results, but it is clear that a foreign government — one that has a history of working against the US — has been interfering in our democratic process.

What would have been the reaction of the Republican party?

I want you to imagine that President Reagan held a meeting afterwards with President Gorbachev General Secretary Brezhnev, and after the meeting, said he believed Gorbachev Brezhnev‘s statement that the Soviet’s were not involved, and that the FBI and CIA were untrustworthy?

What would have been the reaction of the Republican party? Remember: This is the party of Eisenhower and Nixon, a party that was renown for going after Communists and Soviets, a party that felt “Better dead than red.” This was a party that did not accept its politicians working for the Soviets. How would they have reacted?

I want you to imagine that President Reagan had insulted our allies in Europe such as the United Kingdom. That he had implied that the US didn’t need NATO.

How would the Republican party react.

I could go on and on. Just imagine how Republicans at the time of President Bush would have reacted to tax cut proposals that drastically increased the national debt?

Here’s my point: Out of hatred for the left, and out of a desire to retain the power of the Presidency, Republicans have abandoned their principles and joined the Cult of Trump. They have abandoned their love of the nation and their principles for a lust for power (and for many, money).

I’m not asking you to vote for Democrats, or to take up progressive causes. But you need to TAKE BACK YOUR PARTY from those that have stolen it from you. Condemn Trump. Condemn his ideas. Condemn his relationship with the Russians. Condemn the Russian interference in American politics. Condemn his abandoning of the norms of the Presidency and Presidential behavior.

TAKE BACK YOUR PARTY. Work to elect Republicans that express the ideas that have been consistently in your party platforms for the last 60 years. Elect Republicans that hold those values, and clearly reject those that blindly express hatred based on skin color, national origin, sex, and other factors. Elect Republicans that hold with Republican fiscal policy of not increasing the national debt. Elect Republicans that understand foreign policy and America’s role in it, that understand which countries are working against American interests. Elect Republicans that believe in the integrity of the National law enforcement and Intelligence Community — almost all of whom are hard working honest individuals have work across administrations for our great nation (I know, I’ve worked with them). Elect Republicans that understand international trade, and how to use it to help — not hurt — American business.

Even though I’m a Democrat, I respected what the Republican party was. They were a good adversary, and working together we found compromises that moved this nation forward in strength. Trump has hijacked your party; your current party leaders have been blinded by his charisma and power. YOU MUST TAKE BACK YOUR PARTY.

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🎭 Well, That’s Rank(ed) | HFF18

userpic=fringeMy doctor likes to point out that 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class. I mention that because in any competition or comparison (unless those where partial orderings are involved), something is always going to be ranked at the bottom. Even with partial orderings, there is some value that is the lowest value (unless everything is incomparable). That is certainly true for a Fringe Festival: some shows work, some don’t. Some audiences love some shows, some don’t. Even the best show will have audience members for whom it lands with a thud, despite your best efforts. If you care about their opinion at all, you learn what you can from it and improve your show.

I bring this up because of an incident that happened yesterday, in the 45 minute interval between our two shows at The Complex. The performer and author of the second show we had seen the previous Sunday (here’s the link; you figure it out) recognized me and came up to me. A typical New Yorker, she positioned herself about 10 inches from my face and proceeded to lay into me on how my writeup hurt her and her director. She said she almost thought about quitting, she said the contemplated suicide, she said it left her in tears. But, she said, she got over it because she’s got a sold out show at a future Fringe (or Off-Broadway; I can’t recall) in New York and she would work to improve. She said I should think about the hurt I cause when I write something up, and how I go on and on and on with the details. I seem to recall she also said she was having a bad day that day, and why didn’t I get the good message from her show. I just said I was sorry if impacted her so, and eventually she walked away.

Talking with the staff at the Complex Box Office who watched this, they seemed to note she was a bit crazy.

This is the first time I’ve ever had that happen from a writeup. I’ve had folks email back with corrections, and I’ll often edit the review to note those corrections, or note that they indicated they were having difficulties that day, and that my experience might have been atypical. Be polite with me, and I’ll be polite back. But this?

When I wrote up the review, I noted that there were a few comments that expressed a similar view to mine: that this performer was not prepared and rambled through the show. There were a number of positive reviews, but those seemed to be more from friends and cohorts. Additionally, while in line for our first show on Sunday (writeup tonight), I happened to be standing next to an audience member who was at the same show last Saturday with us. Talking with her (and this was before this incident), she expressed the same opinion. This performer was not prepared, and the performance was painful and didn’t impart the message she wanted to impart.

In real life, I’m in the technical world*. I regularly have to teach courses in my area of expertise. I know my material well; I dry run (rehearse) as necessary. I make sure my material clearly imparts the point I want it to make. The reason I didn’t comment on the point she was trying to make was that she didn’t design her show to clearly and succinctly make clear what she was trying to say.

At every Fringe festival, there will be shows at the bottom and shows at the top; shows that need a lot of work and shows that don’t. I think that performers expect that, and use reviews and writeups to learn where they can improve. It is just like getting back comments on conference technical submission: the reviewers aren’t doing this to be personal, they are making comments so that you can be better in the next iteration.

So, Ms. Wow, if you are going to be getting up on a stage — be it the theatre stage, the teaching stage, or submitting technical material to conferences — you need to be prepared to have your work rejected and to get (hopefully) constructive criticism. Do with that criticism what you may, but remember that your reviewers aren’t giving it to you to be hurtful or spiteful, but to help you improve for your next time.

P.S.: * If you didn’t see it earlier in the week, I’m thinking about putting myself out the for criticism: in other words, I’m thinking about a Fringe show. I’d need a writer, so if you’re interested, look here.

P.P.S.: With respect to technical papers, here’s a good article on how to constructively review a research paper. Similar to that, I think there are different aspects to consider when reviewing a show: there’s the writing of the show: how well it establishes its message and conveys that to the audience. There’s the performance: how well does the performer do, independent of whether the story is good or bad. Lastly, there’s the technical aspect of execution: did the lighting, sound, scenery, and costumes contribute to or distract from the performance and message.

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🗳️ Respect, Tolerance, and Being the Example

Yesterday, over on Facebook, I shared a meme from the group No Labels, a movement for people who are fed up with the dysfunction in Washington, and will no longer put up with a government that does not represent the interests of most Americans. The meme consisted of four lines:

  1. I put my country first.
  2. I vote for the person, not the party.
  3. I respect everyone’s opinion, even if I do not agree.
  4. That’s what it means to be an American.

Hoo, boy! You should have seen the responses. Yes, it wasn’t worded exactly correct (which memes are); in particular, line 3 should have been “I respect individuals, and I tolerate everyone’s opinion, even if I do not agree”. But still, it made me realize that I have a number of progressive readers that, while they profess tolerance of a wide variety of dimensions — religion, skin color, orientation, size, etc. — they don’t extend that tolerance to the political or idological realm. If you are a Conservative, if you are a Trump support, especially if you are on the far right of Trump supporters, they won’t tolerate you. They feel obligated, in some ways, to belittle and insult, to scream yell and fight. I’ll note that I haven’t heard much on this from my few Conservative readers — I don’t know if they are the same way for the folks on the far left. I’d expect they are.

This baffles and bothers me no end. I have always been taught that repentance is always possible. One can turn away from evil ideologies and make restitution. There have been numerous cases of White Supremacists doing exactly that, and turning around and working against the ideology. This has happened because they found people that accepted them as people, and convinced them of the errors of their ideology. They were treated with respect and not dismissed.

I believe there is a large undercurrent of Trump supporters that support him not because they necessarily agree with all he says, but because they are pissed at how Liberals have treated the Conservatives. They see us dissing and disrespecting them, so why should they listen to us at all? I’ve seen people who have voted for Trump, or for similar politicians, for the reason that it would piss off the Liberals, not because they like the politician. Why do many Liberals behave this way? Because the Conservatives behaved that way when Obama was President, dissing and disrespecting the Liberals. And they did it because of how the Liberals behaved when Bush was President. And the Liberals behaved that way because of how the Conservatives behaved when Clinton was President. See the pattern. We’ve got to break it.

There were some good articles of late relating to this. In an opinion piece about Robert DeNiro’s “Fuck Trump” at the Tony’s and how that turns off voters, the author wrote:

You’re right that Donald Trump is a dangerous and deeply offensive man, and that restraining and containing him are urgent business. You’re wrong about how to go about doing that, or at least you’re letting your emotions get the better of you.

When you answer name-calling with name-calling and tantrums with tantrums, you’re not resisting him. You’re mirroring him. You’re not diminishing him. You’re demeaning yourselves. Many voters don’t hear your arguments or the facts, which are on your side. They just wince at the din.

You permit them to see you as you see Trump: deranged. Why would they choose a different path if it goes to another ugly destination?

In an interview with Trevor Noah in the LA Times, when asked about his most important on-the-job lesson, he said:

Many of the people you deal with in politics are doing what they think is right, according to their point of view. There are a few disingenuous bad actors who know how they’re contorting facts or reality or issues to mobilize people in the direction they desire. But it’s really, really hard, and it took me a while to realize, that many people genuinely are pursuing the direction they believe is correct. So I had to learn how to deal with those people in an empathetic way as opposed to in a condescending way. I don’t have to agree with you; I don’t have to think that you are right. But I will do my utmost to treat you as the human being I hope you would treat me as.

I want to emphasize that ending: ” I don’t have to agree with you; I don’t have to think that you are right. But I will do my utmost to treat you as the human being I hope you would treat me as.” We can disagree and argue about ideas and behaviors. We can insist that those are wrong. But the underlying person — whether brown, black, white or green; whether MS13 or Phi Betta Kappa; whether Conservative or Liberal — is worth respecting, for if you dismiss them out of hand, you have no chance of turning them around. Respect doesn’t mean agreement. It means listening to what they say, showing that you have heard what they said, and then based on what they said convincing them of a different viewpoint. It is the exact same respect you have been taught to show for your spouse.

If we want to have any chance of changing the administration to something that approaches something somewhat normal (and remember, when compared to Trump, even  such past bad examples as Nixon and Bush 43 look good), we can’t have people voting out of spite. That’s true whether the person is a Trump-ista, a Bernie-crat, or a Hillary supporter. We need to listen, we need to understand their concerns (which are often multifaceted, and not just a particular bad ideology). We need to accept the person, even as we reject the ideas. If we do that, we may be able to move that person (or people observing the discussion) between the partisan divide based on labels alone, and get them to see how close to the brink we have gotten.

Going along with this should be the notion of consistency: If something was wrong for one side, it is wrong for all sides. If, for a given behavior, it was unacceptable for Obama to do it, it should be equally unacceptable for Trump to do it. The “rightness” or “wrongness” of an action doesn’t change “because it’s our guy”. There are numerous examples of this that I’m sure you can think of. Private email servers. Unsecured phones. Attempts by Communist governments to interfere in our elections. Working with dictators and those that impinge on human rights. We need to be consistent on what actions are acceptable and what is not. That also goes for our behavior. If you are behaving in a way that you would have criticized if your political opposite did it, then don’t do it. Did you get upset when Conservatives made fun of Obama’s looks. Then don’t do it for Trump. Be consistent. Consistent approaches as to what is the correct behavior, independent of whether you politcally agree with the person you are criticizing, is another form of respect.

OK. I think this rant is done.

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The Danger of North Korea

userpic=divided-nationPresident Trump has just met with the leader of North Korea, and we need to be very very careful and be cautious…

…lest we shoot ourselves in the foot.

Perhaps I should explain. When I got up this morning, I was greeted with a barrage of posts from my friends on the right talking about the achievements of Trump in North Korea. I was also greeted from a barrage of posts from the left dismissing everything Trump has done there — he’s sold us down the river, he’s doing this to get a hotel, he’s doing this because I loves Kim, he’s being naive. Reading both side, it started this post welling up in me.

To my liberal and progressive friends, I want you to think back to those wonderful days when Obama was President. Are you in your happy place? Good. Now, think about how you felt when the right — the opposition to Obama — dismissed anything and everything he did. How in their book, Obama was a disgrace and it was impossible for him to get anything — a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g — right. How did that make you feel? How receptive did that make you to anything the other side side? How did that contribute to the growing divide between the left and the right?

Most of you are too young to remember Richard Nixon. He was a President during the Vietnam War, the man behind Watergate, and the only President to resign. He was an ardent anti-Communist, the VP under Eisenhower, at the height of the Cold War. Yet it was Richard Nixon that first went to China, and got us talking to that nation. It was often said, “Only Nixon can go to China”.

It may be that “Only Trump could go to North Korea”.

Whether initiated by the Democrats or the Republicans, talking to your enemy is a good thing. Establishing the dialogue. Remember when we were all in favor of it when Obama was President? Remember how we wanted him to talk to North Korea, but it was dismissed as dangerous by the right because he was too naive? Remember.

If we, as progressives, do not acknowledged the few things that Trump somehow does that are movements in the correct direction, anything we say will be dismissed out of hand. I like to say that even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day. Think of Trump as that clock. If Trump is able to open a dialogue with North Korea, he has achieved something. He may not be the reason the dialogue has opened, but if it serves to increase understanding between the two countries, if it reduces nuclear tension, that that’s a good thing. More important, if we do not acknowledge it as good thing, we will be doing something the Democratic Party has been expert in: self-sabotage. We won’t need the Republicans to lose us the upcoming the elections, we can do it to ourselves. We did it in 2016, and we can do it again.

It is vital for the success of this nation that we do not self-sabotage, that we acknowledge that “Only Trump could go to North Korea”.

There are also some important things to remember:

First, Trump and Kim have supposedly signed an agreement. But remember, if it is a treaty or an agreement, Congress must ratify it. How many treaties have past Presidents signed that Congress never ratified, and thus the country was never committed. Right.

Second, it could very well be that Trump is doing this so he can personally gain by building in North Korea. That, actually, is neither here nor there. Remember what I’ve said about collusion: It could very well be that Trump didn’t collude with Russia. Collusion means there is conscious working together to achieve a particular goal. But two organizations can have the same goal and not work together. Russia could have been working to get Trump elected and to get Trump in power for their own reasons — and that includes behind the scenes subtle manipulation of Trump. But that doesn’t mean that Trump was working with them; he just had the same goal. This is the same way that “Independent PACs” can work to get a candidate elected without being in coordination with the candidate’s campaign. Similarly, Trump might be doing this for the personal gain, but that doesn’t mean the end result might not also lower the tension in the region.

The key point here is this: If we are so “knee-jerk” that we can’t acknowledge an occasional stumble into success, we (i.e., we progressives) will be dismissed out of hand by the other side. That, in turn, will make it even harder for us to gain any concessions or make any compromises. It will further solidify the divide in this nation. It could very well keep Trump in power and hurt the Democratic party.

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