Archive for October, 2018

It won’t be over

Author: admin

Historically, elections are supposed to settle things. Winners celebrate and get on with life. Losers pay the bills and put away their signs. Until next time. But, this one’s different.

This country has not experienced an election like this in my long lifetime. When it’s over, it won’t be over. Bitterness, tribalism, deep racial and social divisions will continue. In Congress and in our individual lives.

Trump’s not on the ballot, they say. But he is. The continual chaos he’s caused in our national governance is present in nearly every race. His gross, demeaning and lying conduct of his tenure can be found in all manner of places.

The most obvious, of course, will be the new balance of power in the Congress. A reconstituted Congress that’s bowed to his will for two years may – may – find a raised voice of authority with many new members. Still, we’ll see further divisions. Democrats seem headed to the majority in the House. But, the Senate will probably continue Republican dominance, though only by a vote or two. Gridlock.

Appropriations legislation, for instance, must start in the House. So, a Democrat majority will muscle through its figures and a GOP majority in the Senate will bury ‘em. Impeaching of the President, if such occurs, must start in the House. If such a move is successful, the Senate is where the subsequent trial takes place. Can you see McConnell allowing that to happen?

Also, in the House, win or lose, Speaker Ryan will be gone. If Republicans keep the majority, tell me who the next Speaker will be. No one can answer that. And GOP party leadership? There are no obvious candidates and the screwed up “Freedom Caucus” will fight anyone of moderate stripe. It’ll be a bloodbath whether the GOP is dominant or not.

Current Democrat leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Check Schumer, are sure to be challenged. Splits in the party which, heretofore have been lightly plastered over, will become deeper and more public. The present Dem caucus is fairly centrist. But, the left is likely to make some electoral gains which could shift the balance. There will be more women in the mix. New voices for change.

In state races, again, the presence of Trump and divisions are in both parties from coast-to-coast. The current Independent
Party governor of Alaska, for example, has quit his campaign, endorsing the Democrat saying the Republican is too extreme and his election would not be in the state’s “best interests.”

In several federal and states races, current officeholders – some charged with felonies or even convicted of felonies – are on ballots trying to get back to the public trough. Even some awaiting trial!

Arizona’s Senate race is a catfight and, whomever wins, the state loses. The qualifications bar has been set so low you’ve got to dig to find it. One says the other is “guilty of treason” and the other says her opponent “lies about everything.” Some choice.

Republicans in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, North Dakota and South Carolina are disenfranchising minority voters – literally – by the busload. Hundreds of thousands. Should their despicable efforts prevail, all residents of those states will pay millions of tax dollars in sure-to-come court challenges. Political and racial divisions will further divide and weaken state and local governments.

It’s fair to say that many national and state divisions existed pre-Trump. Some for generations. Even he can’t be blamed for every woe. But, it’s also fair to say he’s used sledgehammers – verbal, political and otherwise – to divide, split, inflame, vilify and reap chaos on this nation. The effects of his manic presidency can be found on the ballots in state after state.

Barring full impeachment, Trump will be around for two more years. He’ll continue to assault public institutions, relentlessly campaign for adoring crowds who haven’t discovered his inevitable self-destructive and amoral ways. He’ll continue his efforts to undermine the entire Federal judicial system. There’ll be more threats against people who oppose him. His ignorance of politics, history and governance won’t change. His in-your-face profiteering from his high office will continue.

No, this election won’t be over when it’s over. Voters may make some much-needed changes in the makeup of Congress. They may have their voices more clearly heard by a Congress that’s turned its back on overwhelming public choices on issues. We might even see a few converts among the re-elected miscreants.

Regardless of voter feelings and demands, November 7, 2018, will likely look a whole lot like November 5th. The only sense of satisfaction we may get from voting is that we tried to make ourselves heard and were successful in a few places.

But, it will be far from over.

Because we can

Author: admin

“Before we work on artificial intelligence,
why don’t we do something about natural stupidity?

This bit of doggerel appeared on the old computer machine the other day and got me thinking some serious thoughts. Thoughts like, just because new tools of our technologically-driven world allow us to do things not previously possible, should we?

After some considerable thought, my answer is, “No. Not always.”

While humankind traditionally embraces discovery and new ways of living, in some cases, we’ve found ourselves with the ability to “do” without asking “Now that we can, should we?” “Do we understand what we’re doing?”

The current ability to keep brain-dead and other near-terminal bodies alive is one such instance in which technology has made something possible but we’ve not yet developed solid ethics to answer the question “Should we?

Or, we can clone animals. This naturally leads to the query, “What about humans?” To which we should immediately further ask, “Should we?”

Scientists at M-I-T have disclosed they’ve bred lab rats that age in reverse! Now, we’ll see public clamor to try it on humans. Is someone – anyone – going to quickly and loudly ask “Should we?”

Not many folks remember Josef Mengele – Doctor Mengele. He was assigned to the Auschwitz prison camp in 1942, and contributed to the deaths of millions of Jews. But, his real Nazi “fame” came from his ghastly experiments to develop a “master race.” Pictures, published after World War II, showed the depth of depravity of his “work.” It’s still impossible to understand why someone – anyone – would have submitted thousands to such brutality.

Mengele told the Nazi hierarchy he could create the “master race” through medically inhumane means. But no one asked, “Should we?”

Extreme case? Yes. Definitely. But it brutally teaches us that we – as humans – are capable of trekking off into uncharted domains without considering necessary ethics to deal with such issues and without asking “Should we?

Now, we’re faced with “artificial intelligence.” Developers are boldly touting what it will do for us – how it will change our lives for the better – how it will advance our “civilization.”

As a nation – as a world – we should just as loudly be asking “Yes, we can, but should we?” I’ve not heard of anyone or any serious intellectual body raising the issue of developing concomitant ethics – rules – standards – limitations – before we dash headlong into this new “computerized world.”

A.I. is not something to necessarily be afraid of. But, the capabilities of this astounding science are so immense we need to figure out what we’re going to do with it – how we’re going to use it – what aspects of it we should pursue – what limitations (and how many and for what) we should adopt.

In a very real sense, A.I. amounts to humans turning over many “duties” that have traditionally been our responsibilities – our tasks – our ways of living – to inanimate, but very intelligent, machines.

Is anyone truly asking which responsibilities, which tasks, which real world ethics we should apply? Is anyone looking at limitations – what failsafe protections we need to develop before we rush into this new ”Utopia?”

I don’t hang around the M-I-T labs on a regular basis. Nor am I on mailing lists of other major research institutions. So, some of what’s happening in these “lofty towers” may be getting past me.

But, I’d like to think that, as we consider what to do with this new science, someone – many someone’s – are toiling with the simple but world-changing question: “We can, but should we?”

A Trump positive

Author: admin

Never thought the day would come – at least in this lifetime – I’d give Donald Trump credit for anything positive. Just seemed absolutely impossible. But, while that “credit” is awfully tangential, it’s his nonetheless.

Hold that thought. A bit of background is required.

The Governor of Connecticut Legislature has signed into law legislation allowing that state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). A mouthful, to be sure. But, it’s important.

NPVIC was formed several years ago to make an end run around existing federal law in the way the Electoral College works. Presently, each state has the same number of College votes as it does members of Congress. Idaho, for example, has four – two Representatives and two Senators. Oregon has seven; Washington 12, California 55, Texas 38 and so on.

Currently, if a presidential candidate amasses an Electoral College vote total 270 in several large states, the popular vote winner could lose. In reality, we’d have a minority president. Trump-Clinton. Bush-Gore.

What the Compact represents is states changing their own laws so the popular vote winner is the real winner in future presidential elections. If the Compact can reach the 270 vote total – the same Electoral College number a presidential candidate has to get to win now – future races would go to the popular vote victor. Minus considerable legal challenges to that end run.

With the addition of Connecticut, the Compact currently has 172 electoral votes coming from California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C.. So, the hunt is on for a total of 98 more. A few “biggies” like Ohio (18), Texas (38), Michigan (16) and Florida (29) could put things “over-the-top.”

While there many folk – corporate and political – who don’t want to change – and many reasons (or excuses) for not doing so – the one indisputable argument on the table is simple: all other elections – for anything – are decided by the majority of the most votes cast. Period. The presidency is the only contest – from dog catcher to Congress – in which the majority can – as we’ve seen recently – lose the race.

“What’s that got to do with giving credit to Trump,” you ask?

Since the 2016 election, according to Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, more states are asking for information about the Compact and more research is being done on how to draft legislation.

As Connecticut State Rep. Mathew Lesser put it in debate, “The Trump victory appears to have given the issue some added momentum.”

Thanks, Donny! You’ve been a big help.

For years, pollsters have found a majority of Americans have little trust in their national media. In many instances, the positive percentages of those questioned about fairness, accuracy and impartiality have hovered below 30-percent or so. I’m not willing to accept those numbers at face value.

One reason for my scepticism is pollsters often don’t define the word “media” before asking their questions. Consider some of the larger outfits in that business – Gallup, Pew, etc. Many of their queries are about media “in general” which leaves responses open to interpretation. On occasion, if they specify which media, further questioning often avoids other sources – mass media, radio, TV, print or “social media.”

And therein lies one reason for my distrust of most such surveys. What about “social” media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like? Given the high percentages of folks – especially those age 40 and under – who get most of their information from such, are those sources broken out from print and broadcast media in polling? Seldom.

Four important factors to consider here. First, nearly none of what appears in “social” media is edited for accuracy, sourcing or even truth. There are no checks on whether the information is reliable. Given the huge number of people who have no idea how businesses operate – or even how their own government functions – you’re on your own when it comes to whether you believe what’s been read or told. That can, in turn, affect how a person sees all media.

Second, if pollsters don’t specifically breakout which media is being asked about – which, in my checking, is all too often the case – responses will be skewed. Comparing a Facebook post to The Washington Post makes responses invalid. One is checked, cross-checked and heavily edited. The other is totally unedited, unchecked and, often, a bogus source.

Third, many folks tend to gravitate to media that agree with their viewpoints because they reinforce what they already believe. They routinely avoid the ones that don’t. For those doing that consistently, they’re not exposed to new or different facts and, thus, cling to information that may be comfortable but also old or wrong. People who rely on Fox, for example, are fed a steady diet of disinformation – much of it edited to skew things to false “facts.”

Finally, another factor skewing polling is the issue of what the word “news” means to both the pollster and the “pollee.” Unless there’s some major disaster or important world event at the moment, CNN, MSNBC and Fox have little to no news after 4pm MST. It’s mostly opinion mixed with a few facts. Much of it is reporters talking to reporters or others favorable to the networks point-of-view. It’s not “news.” But, pollsters don’t always differentiate news from opinion in their questions. So, if the responder doesn’t like a certain opinion source, is that person conflating opinion with news?

I’m certainly not opposed to polling. Far from it. But, before taking results at face value, one needs to know how the question is asked and if questioner and responder are clear on the meaning of terms they’re using.

I think most of us have a higher trust of national media than a lot of polls indicate. But that’s just my opinion. Certainly not news. Just so we’re clear.

A very sorry mess

Author: admin

It’s absolutely impossible to look back on last week’s Senate Judiciary hearing with anything but disappointment, shock, anger and disgust.

Regardless of how one feels about the nominee, the entire proceedings were shameful. Members of the panel more than characterized the divisions in this nation. By their noxious, immovable and completely partisan behavior during the whole sorry affair, new and horrendous political and societal fissures were created that won’t heal in a generation. If ever. In the process, Republicans, especially, ignored the time-honored method of selecting, vetting and impartially examining merits of a U.S. Supreme Court pick.

Against the knowledgeable and politically accurate advice of his own Majority Leader, and with deadly malice aforethought, the president lit the fuse. He turned the selection process over to a right wing think tank after placing his own asterisk by Brent Kavanaugh’s name.

There was no vetting process. Documents were secreted. Outlandish attempts were made to conceal important information about the nominee’s legal career and personal history. Millions of dollars were spent on a whitewash ad campaign. Republican members of the committee staff were openly partisan and blocked attempts of Democrat counterparts to develop and present their own findings.

The nation has seen the outcome. Two badly damaged people, pitted against each other like gladiators in some coliseum, encouraged by partisans to “do battle” as witnesses. The whole damned thing should never have been allowed to proceed after the first wisps of smoke appeared in the candidate’s background.

The prostituted process lacked the one ingredient that could have saved the whole sorry affair: a thorough FBI check into the various claims arising from the nominee’s past. A week’s impartial examination – maybe even only a few days – could have produced necessary information for the Committee to make a just and informed recommendation. Republicans repeatedly refused anyone who asked. They, uniformly, would not yield to even common sense.

There is now an FBI investigation in progress. But, look at the cost of the accumulated wreckage. Look at the career and personal damage to witnesses and politicians alike. All of it – all of it – could have been avoided.

There’s enough blame in this whole sorry mess to go around. Democrats also played a role in fouling the deal.

But, Republicans are in charge. They have the dominant numbers. They have the gavel. They call the tune – set the stage – direct the show. They have complete responsibility that goes with all those facts. To our everlasting shame, with the world watching, they conducted this demonstration of barbarous partisanship and may have set despicable “standards” for future judicial proceedings.

You can choose to believe the accuser(s). You can believe the nominee. But, one thing you must personally believe was the visible demonstration of intemperance, overwrought emotions, combativeness and deep anger displayed by Kavanaugh. Then, regardless of political outlook, you have to ask yourself “Are those characteristics ones you want sitting in judgement on all issues brought before the U.S. Supreme Court?” What if it’s your “issue?” How trusting would you be your issue would be judged impartially?

Finally, the entire tragedy could have been avoided with the selection of someone not carrying the baggage of years of political partisanship. Someone characterized by demonstrated legal acuity, possessed of emotional and other personal traits desired in a Justice of the highest court. Someone known by peers to be capable of withstanding the pressures and rigors of serving on a panel carrying the full weight of one-third of this nation’s constitutional governance.

This tragic affair could have been avoided if those charged with conducting the matter had relied on tradition, rules, common sense, compassion and law. They did not.

Regardless of the outcome of November’s election, the bad feelings, anger, resentment, emotional damage and political ruptures will linger. For a long, long time.