Saturday, December 8, 2018

Wagging the Dog

            Another year vanishes, its allegations of witness tampering, obstruction of justice, a resurgence of anti-Semitism, polarization of a restive public, promises of a new year to come of subpoenas, congressional hearings, a special prosecutor’s report cataloging misfeasance, mischief, sending echoes of  “high crimes and misdemeanors “ rumbling through the capitol.  Scoundrels never rest.

            Ah, for years gone by when Democrats and Republicans came together, Watergate dominating the airwaves, the nation glued to its televisions on the three broadcast networks.  Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley, trusted newsmen, just like Sean Hannity, telling us the facts, or in Hannity's case, alternative facts.

            The president's acolytes and knaves face an ever increasingly frowning statue of Justice, the scales of which are growing more lopsided every day, weighted with each new incriminating tweet, revelation, indictment and guilty plea.

            The president, increasingly frenetic, tweets tropes dedicated arguably to obstructing justice.  Even Richard Nixon, although he had no twitter feed, was too smart (he never expected that his secret tapes would be revealed) to confirm allegations in public. But this president does not seem to understand about the ones to come, charges that will emanate from Bob Mueller's crew of tight lipped, eagle-eyed, OCD prosecutors zeroing in on them.    Trump scurries about, tweeting and bloviating, like a steroid-injected chipmunk, now viewed as a meal for the eagle's newly hatched chicks. Mueller's reports, exponentially more incriminating, arrive  just in time for a Merry Christmas.  It is like watching "Love Actually" in reverse.

            President Trump, seeking cover, attended the G20, formerly the G7, or 12 or whatever, suspends the Chinese tariffs that should not have been imposed in the first place citing a victory.  Sending the army to the border to "protect" the nation from dispossessed, shirtless, starving migrants who were set to conduct an "invasion" across the Rio Grande and reclaim Texas for Mexico, or Honduras, take your scapegoat pick, did not reap the benefits he supposed.   Those mothers whose children, armed to the teeth with AR15s supplied by Wayne La Pierre are ready to take on the 7th cavalry.  "Play the Gary Owen,” shouts shout Trump’s minions,

            Trump, our latter day Father Coughlin/ Hughey Long, apologizes for MBS whose bone sawing team brazenly tortures, murders, and dismembers a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.  For Allah's sake, cries the despotic president of Turkey, Recip Tayip Erdogan, you are on my turf.  Michael Corleone versus the Tatagglias. Erdogan spills the beans to the CIA, the director of which flies to Istanbul to listen to the rasping sounds of saw on bone and the screeches of a man who had gone into the consulate to get his marriage documents. Trump's CIA director, Gina Haspel reluctantly testifies before congress that the CIA has confirmed the responsibility of MBS, and Trump says. "Maybe he did and maybe he didn't."    No smoking gun.  No collusion.  Witch-hunt.

Trump, despondent, because he cannot string up the entire staffs of the Washington Post, The New York Times, plus George Soros and Jeff Bezos.  Even more despondent because now he will have to face an angry swarm of Democratic subpoenas, hearings and even articles of impeachment.   Republicans, fearing the loss of their seats in 2020 will soon be jumping off the ship. One could argue that the tipping point is near, although many do not believe it.  After all, two years have passed since Trump raged about "American carnage, " his dark vision of America, provided by the conspiracist Steve Bannon, now relegated to internet malevolence.  

Those of us old enough to remember know that Watergate took a long time.  But there was, finally, a tipping point when Republican senatorial supporters told Nixon finally he must go.

"I'm a business man, why shouldn't I offer a $50 million penthouse to Vladimir?  After all he strongly denied any interference in our election and that tower I never built in Moscow with my name on it is coming soon.  "I just dream about all those oligarchs and plutocrats paying millions of dollars for a gold plated view of the Kremlin.  Can you imagine the money I will make on the extras?  Gold plumbing fixtures, Italian marble counters, high end appliances and toilets that wash your bottom before arising from the gold-plated toilet seat?
Of course, I place the interests of the United States first.  After all, I want payment in dollars, not rubles."

Will the money trail finally be revealed?  Will those tax returns be made public?
Will Trump’s felons need a new prison wing?

Come on Bobby three sticks,
I hope they are in time for Christmas.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Immigration: Republican Abandonment of American Ideals

On a plaque in New York Harbor, at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus

The Presidentially ginned up fear of the immigrant “caravan’” of poor, dispossessed, and wretched souls looking for better lives in America is reprehensible.  The silly border wall, keeping those in the caravan out of our country, would have to run through the middle of the Rio Grande, unless we ceded the river to Mexico, by placing the wall on the US side of the river. 

Most of Trump’s  base are  probably not motivated by white supremacist racism, but instead, by a misguided fear of the destruction of their own financial security and racial homogeneity stoked by a lying demagogue.  They are, to use plain words, suckers, gullible suckers. Purchasers of a Kool Aid dispensing lunatic.  A Brooklyn Bridge selling grifter.  A snake oil selling self-enriching crook.   A latter day Elmer Gantry.  The Pied Piper of low information Americans hoping he will improve their lives.   The only life he is improving is his own and his cast of miscreants and knaves.

The uttered shop-worn trope of “welfare moms, and anchor babies.”  This echo of Trumpian fear and mendacity, in an appeal to an enraged base fearing loss of their jobs from immigrants, does not accept that new immigrants only want to  do work that Americans will not; that they are first stage immigrants as were so many of our own parents, grandparents and great grandparents. This anxiety ridden GOP base does not understand that 80% of jobs are now lost to automation and technological change, not immigration.  They do not understand that we are in a profound cultural metamorphosis, prompted by technological change unseen since the early industrial revolution and the first gilded age.   That the greatest challenge facing our country is technological displacement.

They believe dog-whistle racism and of a Machiavellian President that America is under attack from immigration.  President Trump falsely claims that there “are middle easterners” among the poor, starving people walking across Mexico, just as he had said that Mexicans are rapists and bad people and “the blacks love me.”  There are no middle easterners in a caravan of 15,000 poor souls.   And the US admits 300,000 immigrants each year.  

Thinly veiled racism and a tribal call to demonization of others disturb me deeply.  It is a response to demagoguery, the same demagoguery that incited a homicidal Trump supporter to mail pipe bombs this week to prominent Trump opponents, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, James Clapper, George Soros, John Brennan, and CNN, the network branded by Trump as an “enemy of the people.”  The putative-alleged bomber was born in New York, not Benghazi.  The President failed to recognize any of the potential well known victims or ask for respect for those public servants who oppose him.  It is the same methodology employed by Joseph Goebbels.

And now, encouragement of anti-Semitic crazies who murder Jews in their synagogue, partially becauseof the inflammatory rhetoric of a madman.

I wistfully reminisced about long-time GOP statesman of inclusiveness from my youth, and remembered fondly the civil discourse of different policy decisions, based upon rational thinking and a desire to meet common goals on how to meet the needs of our country.   I remember divisions between the two major parties, but mostly they were simply about policy.   Race incitement did not play as important an issue, although it was there, probably wrongly swept under a musty old carpet in the rush to reach some consensus about tax cuts, higher budgets, less spending, the economy, military expenditures, the role of the United States in the world.   But it concealed the slavery-ridden origins of our nation and the bitter Civil War that followed it by 80 or so years.  It still lingers as a dark stain.

My father arrived in this country in 1923, with, he always said, 18 cents in his pocket.  Given his penchant for exaggeration, it probably was a few more dollars than that, and his father had given him, upon his departure from an anti-Semitic Hungary, looking to draft him to serve in an even more anti-Semitic military, a gold watch, which he could always use to pawn if he needed a few more dollars.
From his first days in America, he looked to learn English, and read the American Newspapers, the New York Times, the New York Post,  the Forward and lastly learn Yiddish for employment (he spoke none when he arrived. ) He ate strawberries and sour cream at HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) which also helped him to find work and is now helping others who are not even Jewish.

Driven by an insatiable work ethic and a desire to succeed in the  “Goldene Medina,” (a country where the streets were lined with gold,) he did forge a successful business career, marriage and family, dying in 1990.

He always remarked to me that he savored the famous Emma Lazarus poem when he arrived at Ellis Island to embark on a new life in America.  When the great depression struck about six years after he arrived, he embraced Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.  He became a life-long liberal Democrat, always valuing the idea of the inclusive and welcoming aspect of the American ideal.  He did not understand those who would exclude people from coming to America.

The year after he arrived, the Congress of the United States passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924, essentially excluding immigrants from Eastern Europe, most of whom were Jews who sought to escape from oppressive anti-Semitism in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, now divided into smaller countries by the British and French imperialists, leading to another worse war and the slaughter of six million Jews and millions of others. Most painfully to him it excluded five of his brothers and sisters, whom he wanted to come to join him in New York.  The Nazis murdered all but two who spent horrific years in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

The ethos of those involved in that Congressional act of discrimination was that Americans were under threat of “others” who were not the same as the earlier immigrants.  Earlier, Fredrick Douglas Jackson’s call to the American frontier in the 19th century allowed those “others” to populate our Westward expansion (conducted at the expense of Native Americans).  Those “others” included Irish, Asian, Scottish and Italians.  Those intrepid frontiersmen went ahead to steal the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, and the lands of Native Americans.

Now the nativist call arises from a President who has no concept of American history, nor the imperatives of our Republic; he beckons to the basest of political instincts, tribalism, xenophobia, mendacity and misappropriated fear of potential contributors to the American dream who seek a better life for themselves and their children. 

He does this to advance his own political agenda, his own narcissistic ignorance, thinking nothing of separating families or putting children in cages.

It is incumbent on all Americans who love our country to vote to restore some of the purloined values of the country we all think should reflect the values of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the great lady sitting in New York Harbor by disempowerment of one of the biggest electoral mistakes in our nation’s history.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Equal Justice Under Law

At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.


Justice John Marshall,  Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Justice Earl Warren, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Justice Felix Frankfurter, Justice Hugo Black, Justice William O. Douglas are shining stars of the judicial firmament of the Supreme Court of the Untied States.  These legal giants did more to affect the history of the United States than most politicians, and reaffirmed that the rule of law is paramount even when democracy is challenged. 

Since Marbury v. Madison the court has issued opinions affecting the fate of our republic.  Many of the cases have been wrongly decided,  especially Dred Scott, holding that African- Americans were not eligible for citizenship because at the time of the drafting of the Constitution they were not citizens of the United States. In Plessy v. Ferguson,(1896). The Court ruled on the concept of 'separate but equal' and set back civil rights in the United States for decades to come.

Plessy was considered precedent and not subject to change until being overruled by later cases, including Brown v. Board of Education, which effectively ruled that “separate but equal” was inherently unequal.  Brown overturned precedent.   Averments that Supreme Court candidates make about “settled law” therefore, in front of senate confirmation hearings mean not very much at all.  Perhaps in the lower courts, but not in the highest court in the land which makes precedent, ergo the evasively disingenuous  statement of Judge Kavenaugh about following precedent.

Throughout the 19th century, and even much of the 20th century, our nation has dealt with the ugly, demeaning results of the historically ignominious stain of racism and slavery,  the genesis of a wellspring of global antipathy toward our nation, and a deep reminder how hypocritically sanctimonious it is for  those who call America the land of the free and the home of the brave--the shining city on the hill.

Our national conscience is still obsessed with the values of “whiteness,” the detritus of our disambiguated antipathy towards those who do not meet the tribal standards of white America.
Even in times of historic dysmorphia from our Puritan Episcopalian roots, we cling to the notion that the “browning” of America is somehow an evil to be erased by white nationalism, shielded by a thin veil of economic and social fears stoked by demagoguery.

Somehow, somewhere these notions might disappear, but the inherent issue is whether it will take too long to save the Republic.  Some think we are due for a second civil war.  This war could possibly originate in the exacerbation of a meritocracy created by economic stratification of the masses through automation and educational disparities aggravated and created by governmental educational malfeasance, the malignant byproduct of a Dickensian rationale among the privileged classes that assumes racist disparities rendering huge numbers of our populace uneducable.

At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln understood that the sacrifices made to save the Union could have been squandered, and in his second inaugural address, sought to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” with “malice toward none and with charity for all…”

Far we are from these thoughts today, the nation riven by a President who plays a cynical game of thrones.  Imagine how he would serve in the arc of history had he re-appointed Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court?  Or announced that Nazis were bad instead of commenting ignorantly that there were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville racial eruption,  creating a false moral equivalence by pandering to the worst instincts of his base?
Perhaps he would have risked alienating the worst of his base, but he would have united much of the country at the center, and even further marginalized those who are motivated by resentment, fear and misappropriated rage.

So we must analyze the divisions of our polity.  Is leadership the ability to unite disparate groups with an appeal to better angels or is it one that builds on animosities?  Animosities seems an easier building block, given the tribal tendencies of humans and the sordid history of war and hatred of people who do not resemble us.   The notion that humanity, as some scholars say, is improving apace and on an evolutionary scale, is not a long time.  But for those who have lived through many episodes of it, it seems like an eternity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Robots are Coming­­

Hal, Open the Pod Bay Doors”
“I can’t do that, Dave.”

Arthur C. Clarke, 2001, A Space Odyssey

“Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be
the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.”

Stephen Hawking

The autumn has come to Vermont.   The trees turn red and yellow, leaves floating to the ground and we are getting ready to head south.

Tonight, it will be 38° and the fireplace is blazing primaevally.

The media, consumed with the Kavanaugh confirmation potential sex scandal, fails to address the issues that are crucial to America.  No one seems to be paying attention to Artificial Intelligence, climate change, technological displacement of workers and what America will look like thirty years from now.  There is a shortage of vision in the political class or an examination how candidates feel about these overwhelming issues.

All around the world, scientific and technological advances render our current system of government increasingly challenging.  Even the abolition of the Electoral College cannot gain any traction, not to mention the quality of people making decisions affecting our daily lives and well-being.  Entire classes of workers are becoming irrelevant and even expendable. And no one in the political class speaks about these issues.  The media is distracted by whether the president of the United States will get his money to build a wall on the Rio Grande, and, in fact whether he will be impeached by a new congress.

Existential questions are asked in a new book by Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli author of the critically acclaimed Sapiens, Homo Deus, and now, 21 Lessons for the 21st century.

What will America look like 30-50 years from now?  How will we provide income to those who become irrelevant, replaced by machines?  How will those in that category make a living, fill their days, and fundamentally alter the American and international political landscape?

Increasingly evident to thinkers who look to the future are those questions as well as the fact that our government may not, as presently structured, be suitable for governance. For example, they see that the people who elect politicians cannot even reach a consensus on climate change.  Some place short term goals such as lower taxes, corporate profits and employment above what the long-term goal should be to deal with massive unemployment in an increasingly unemployable work force.  People who have already been displaced in coal mines, steel mills, farms, ranches and automobile assembly lines, and have grown enraged, blaming immigration when 80% of the jobs lost have been lost to technological changes and to automation. Companies that used to employ hundreds of thousands now can make more money with a tenth of the work force and be even more productive.

Others fail to see the implications of artificial intelligence disrupting the economy and lives of people who will never be able to find employment.  Computers may not become sentient beings, but they certainly will be more competent in using algorithms to diagnose disease, drive vehicles, and do other tasks amenable to processing large amounts of data; this list grows exponentially. 

Throughout history, societies have been riven by changes in technology. For example, our democratic institutions, crafted in the 18th century may no longer be workable in governing our society.   Will democracy give way to a more efficient form of government?   In China, an entire new infrastructure is being built without the messy decisions of a democratic process.  Will representative democracy survive the change?  If, for example, Harari argues, do passengers on a jetliner take a vote on whether the pilot should pull up on the throttle, or is better to leave the intricacies of governmental decision-making to experts in their fields?

In the 18th century, our constitution created a system allowing a government whereby white land-owning people elected representatives to represent them and stated that all people were entitled to the “pursuit of happiness.”   Does that mean that people should not have to work on boring jobs that are only done for money?  Is happiness a logical pursuit in a society that requires people to work on jobs they do not like?  It is quite possible that happiness will be achieved by a new leisure class resembling the British aristocracy, hunting pheasants, and playing polo, machines having taken over the drudgery of work and creating greater productivity than ever before, but at the same time displacing workers.  The irrelevance of workers succumbs, therefore, to a new definition of the pursuit of happiness and possibly a guaranteed annual income for those who can no longer work.

None of today’s candidates have articulated a view, Harari argues, that considers the three most important challenges to society:  Nuclear war, climate change, and technological displacement through AI.   Will intelligent robots displace 80% of the workforce, and thereby generate violent revolutionary change?

Politicians seeking office today need to answer these questions before they are elected.  Politicians of both parties look at these pressing issues as though it might be how a unicorn spends its time.   Long term issues of humanity are nowhere in the political dialog the crux of which is how does Trump keep his hair so orange, his television viewing habits or how often he golfs with his criminal contingent.

Ok, so Trump is a criminal, or an unindicted co-conspirator, or a Russian money launderer.  How is that going to help us on these large looming threats?  Nuclear War, Technological displacement, or climate change and rising seas?