Small Minds

Many years ago, in my misspent youth, I read an article in the Sunday paper, written by a Nun, that developed the notion that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. I have always thought that was an interesting notion and it may have been (in a small way) the reason I decided to pursue a PhD in philosophy. At the very least, I didn’t want my mind to atrophy and I thought philosophy was the sort of subject that could keep my mind alive well into my dotage: questions that don’t have answers! Well, here I am.

But, with the exception of a few bright people who post blogs and comment from time to time about the issues, I appear to be surrounded by small minds discussing people. I am speaking of the elections, of course, in which ideas are scarce if present at all and events seem to have been ignored as well — unless they reveal a scandal about the parties involved. This election is all about people and the ad hominem fallacy abounds. I speak of that logical fallacy that redirects attention to the character of the person advancing an argument rather than dealing with the argument itself. One of the candidates, who will not be mentioned, glories in attacking not only his opponent but anyone who walks, rolls, or crawls and has the gall to disagree with him. I cannot remember any candidate in my lifetime who seems to enjoy attacking persons as does this man. And he has a great many followers who seem to enjoy it as well.

Politics has always been a bit dirty even from the get-go. And the ad hominem attack on the speaker has always been there in some form or other. But this election takes the cake and wins hands-down: it seems to have achieved a new low. We are scraping through the bottom of the barrel!

When one reflects back on the days when the Constitution was being considered for adoption the country (very small at the time, of course) was abuzz about the balance between states and nation; there was considerable fear of giving up the power that resided in the small relatively homogeneous states to a nation of people who disagree with one another about many of the important issues of the day. Where have those ideas gone? Where is that passion for thought on a large scale, a scale beyond the self? Why can’t people discuss issues with those whose opinion differs from their own? Why do we have to cast aspersions against those who disagree with us rather than listen to what they have to say?

When the Federalist Papers were written by three men of genius they were published in all the major newspapers of New York state and everyone worried whether by adopting the concept of a united country they would be giving up much of the power they had amassed as one of the most prosperous states in the colonies. Everyone who could read — and many who could not — discussed the ideas and thought about the issues involved. It is sobering to realize that those people were willing to think outside the box, to imagine a united country and the positive force it could be in the world. They saw beyond themselves and the present moment and made determinations based on the question of what would be best in the long run.

When this country celebrated its bicentennial in 1976 Henry Steele Commager, the great American historian, was asked what single thing differentiated the folks in this country when the Constitution was written and discussed from the people of America two hundred years later he answered quickly: in those days they thought about the future, about their children and their grandchildren. We no longer think about those things because we are fixated on ourselves at the present moment. That was in 1976. How much worse has it become in the interim? One can only wonder.

In any event, the answer to this question is revealed to some degree by the present lack of discussion in the political arena about the ideas that are so important to the future of this country. Instead we hear about every mistake (real or imagined) one or the other candidate has made in his or her lifetime (or what mistakes their significant other might have made). And it’s not just the candidates, either. The media glories in gossip and citizens who are about to go the voting booth are immersed in talk about the personalities and character (or lack of character) of those who are running for political office.  “I hate him,” or “I can’t stand her.”

We should be talking about qualifications, not personalities. We are lost in blather about people and have lost sight of the issues that confront us all and which will determine the course of this country for the next generation at least. Our minds have shrunk: they are small indeed.

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The Lesser of Evils

Hannah Arendt tells us that the lesser of two evils is still evil. She’s right. And the rumor is going around (especially among those who incline toward a third party candidate in the presidential race) that Hillary is evil even though the lesser of evils. This is a libel and should be rejected as such.

In fact, this woman is extremely well prepared to take the highest office in this land. Not only was she a Senator and the Secretary of State, but she was also married to a two-term president and knows how the ugly game of politics is played. And there’s the rub! She is a politician in a day when politicians are all painted with the same tar brush. But in doing this we ignore folks like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who have shown that it is possible to swim in the putrid waters of Washington politics and not get dirty. Moreover, the former editor of the Wall Street Journal (that “most conservative” of newspapers) stated in print that while doing research on Hillary Clinton for an article she was writing she discovered that Hillary is one of the most honest people in Washington. Now, that may be condemning with faint praise, but it is praise indeed — coming from that source.

Additionally, as noted in a recent blog by my favorite blogger who was comparing Hillary’s agenda with that of Donald Trump, she was

Unable to find anything more than the above regarding Trump’s platform on mental health, I did the unthinkable and went to his campaign website in search of. Remember Hillary’s 38-point platform? Trump has a 7-point platform. No, mental health is not one of the seven. So, I cannot make a comparison between his platform and Hillary’s. Suffice it to say that Ms. Clinton has a comprehensive platform and a plan to improve mental health care, while her opponent has nothing beyond mockery and scorn.

In a word, Hillary stands for important principles — dealing with the economy, education, the environment, health, national security, and social equality, including gay rights — while her opponent can only stand by and call her nasty names. He has no platform on which to stand and his perspective is warped by his hatred and fear of those who differ from himself. But the important point is that, despite her lack of popularity, Hillary Clinton is well prepared for the office of president whereas her opponent(s) — all of them — are not.

This should be kept in mind in November though one will almost certainly not see it written in large letters in the newspapers across this great land of ours, because Hillary is dull compared with Donald Trump who is a circus clown primed to entertain and confuse us all into taking him seriously (and sell newspapers and air time!). The media have always preferred clowns, because that’s what folks seem to want. But for those of us who can see beyond the printed page or the sound-bite on television, it is clear who is and who is not best prepared to be our next president. Dull perhaps, but also very bright and fully aware of what lies ahead for the next president. By no means the lesser of evils.

“Sierra” Speaks

The recent issue of “Sierra” magazine has a most interesting editorial which I quote in part:

“Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been like an oil-train derailment in slow motion — the spectacle is awful to witness, impossible to turn away from, and mesmerizing in its sheer horror.

“Trump enjoys being a bully. His bigotry and his bile are nauseating: the calculated cruelty, the willful ignorance, the lack of empathy and grace. But, as the old saying goes, even a stopped clock is right a couple of times a day. It would be a mistake to blithely dismiss this real estate mogul turned politician. Trump’s brand of nationalism may be ugly, yet he has tapped into a deep vein of resentment that many Americans feel toward the way politics is practiced in this country. He isn’t wrong when he complains that many of our elected officials are ‘puppets’ who are controlled by ‘special interests, the lobbyists, and the donors.’

“Our democracy is, in a word, busted. In this new Gilded Age, U.S.politics has become a pay-to-play game in which the quickest way to bend a politician’s ear is to dip into one’s own pocket. Electoral watchdogs estimate that during the 2016 elections, candidates for office will spend a total of $10 billion. Much of that comes from a wealthy elite who can afford to buy an elected official’s attention; just 158 families have donated nearly half of the money raised by presidential candidates in this election cycle.

“Such an imbalance obviously undermines the one-person-one-vote ideal upon which this democracy rests. . . The environmental movement has popular sentiment on its side: poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans want action addressing climate change and value clean air and water. . .  But it is difficult to translate these positions into policy when elected officials are being funded by industrial interests like the Koch brothers.

“Note that I said difficult, not impossible. Given the sickly state of our body politic it is tempting to view cynicism as wisdom. The best antidote against cynicism is staying engaged in the political process, with the knowledge that reform only happens when people demand it. . .

“It’s a delusion, of course, to imagine that a self-described billionaire will wrench the political system away from wealthy interests. Real reform will require putting all political candidates on a level playing field, stopping voter suppression that disenfranchises poor people, and ending gerrymandering that keeps incumbents in office. That’s how we’re going to make America great.”

This editorial was written by Jason Mark, editor in chief of “Sierra,.”

Planting The Seed

The man really is a piece of work! Donald Trump is preparing his mindless minions for his loss — which, in his world, can only happen if the other side cheats, if the election is “rigged.” He honestly believes, I do think, that he cannot lose unless the Clinton forces cheat — and this from a man who uses WikiLeaks to undermine the Democratic effort. He knows that the DNC cheated in making sure that Hillary won the nomination (which appears to be true) and he now reads the tea leaves and sees his eventual loss, which can only happen if the same machine works to bring him down. Consider this brief excerpt from a Yahoo News report on-line:

Donald Trump suggested on Monday that the November election may be “rigged” against him.

“I’m afraid the election is going be rigged, I have to be honest,” Trump said at a town hall in Columbus, Ohio.

The Republican nominee pointed to Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign as an example of elections being rigged. Trump has frequently claimed that Hillary Clinton only won the primary because national Democrats intervened on her behalf.

At his Monday campaign rally, Trump added that the Republican Party could not stop him in the GOP primary because of the margin of victory he racked up.

“Poor Bernie. He looks so upset. You know what, he shouldn’t have made a deal,” Trump said, referring to Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton. “I think my side was rigged if I didn’t win by massive landslides.”

He even pretends to be sympathetic with Bernie Sanders! But note the final remark: “. . .my side was rigged if I didn’t win by massive landslides.” Now there’s delusion for you. The man is not only a megalomaniac he is a deluded megalomaniac! And he may be just a touch paranoid. As I say, he honestly believes what he says.  In fact, I believe he is convinced that what he says is true because he says it. He is that convinced of his own greatness and superiority to the rest of us. He lives on an island that consists only of himself and he allows others to visit him from time to time, but only if they adore him, and pay him the homage he thinks he deserves. My goodness!

In any event, the tea leaves do appear to be right. Hillary had the expected bump after the convention, but her poll numbers fail to reflect the fact that growing numbers of disenfranchised voters are registering to vote to see to it that Trump fails in November. She appears to be extending her lead.

But we can be certain that Trump will prepare his followers to be braced for the loss and I will go out on a limb and predict that there will be a violent reaction in the Trump camp and among his followers after the loss which the man cannot possibly accept honorably: he doesn’t know what the word means.

Buck Up!

In the superb sit-com “The Big Bang Theory” when Leonard turns for help to his mother, a renown psychiatrist, she will tell him: “Buck Up!” If he asks for more, she will tell him to “Buck Up, Sissypants!” If that doesn’t work, she will tell him to read one of her books available on Amazon.

One of the basic rules of participatory democracy is that we get involved in elections, vote for the candidate of our choice and if that person doesn’t win we accept the consequences. One of the unwritten rules in Civics 101 is that participation necessitates acceptance of the results. The same rule applies in sports. We can’t agree to play and then get pissed off when we or our favorite get beaten and then crawl into a corner and sulk. It is obvious that this rule has not been explained to a great many voters in this country who are pissed off and sulking. Some have become downright nasty. We read about John Schnatter, millionaire owner of a pizza franchise, who threatens to raise the prices of his products and cut back his workers’ hours because of the election; we read about the owner of a coal mine who lays off 50 of his employees — taking his frustrations out on those who would work for him; we read about thousands of people who sign petitions to have their states secede from the Union. To all of these people, I say with Leonard’s Mom: “Buck Up, Sissypants!”

But the following story takes the cake. You can’t make this stuff up!

PHOENIX (Reuters) – An Arizona woman, in despair at the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama, ran down her husband with the family car in suburban Phoenix on Saturday because he failed to vote in the election, police said on Monday.

Holly Solomon, 28, was arrested after running over husband Daniel Solomon following a wild chase that left him pinned underneath the vehicle.

Daniel Solomon, 36, was in critical condition at a local hospital, but is expected to survive, Gilbert police spokesman Sergeant Jesse Sanger said.

Police said Daniel Solomon told them his wife became angry over his “lack of voter participation” in last Tuesday’s presidential election and believed her family would face hardship as a result of Obama winning another term.

Witnesses reported the argument broke out on Saturday morning in a parking lot and escalated. Mrs Solomon then chased her husband around the lot with the car, yelling at him as he tried to hide behind a light pole, police said. He was struck after attempting to flee to a nearby street.

Obama won the national election with 332 electoral votes compared with 206 for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Arizona’s 11 electoral votes were won by Romney.

To be sure, the Republican strategy during the campaigns was to keep hitting the “jobs and economy” button, trying to scare people into voting for their man who was said to be the only one on earth who could fix things that had gone wrong under the sitting President. After the election, one religious zealot actually said that Mitt Romney’s loss was a good thing because if he had won people would have thought him another Moses come to lead his people to the promised land!

To be sure there is some fear at work in Holly Solomon’s damaged mind along with rage and deep disappointment. But, let’s face it folks, there is also a good dose of racial hatred in this as well– along with some pent-up anger at her husband, no doubt. Combine these powerful emotions and you get aberrant behavior that starts at the low end of mere petulance and goes to the extreme of running over your partner with the family car. To these people I say: “Buck Up, Sissypants.”

U.S. Independence Revoked!

My wife’s niece heard from Queen Elizabeth II and she asked me to share the message with my readers:

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up ‘revocation’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except North Dakota, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

We now have to learn to speak “proper” English — not American English. This involves pronouncing “lieutenant” with an “f” as in “leftenant.” Apparently the Brits don’t like the way we say “LOOtenant.” Also we must insert an extra syllable in “aluminum” so it sounds like “aluMINeum.” And “laboratory” must be properly  pronounced as in “laBORatree” and not like “LABratory” We need to watch those “r’s” — we hit them too hahhd. The word “guy” must be replaced by “bloke,” and if they are delinquent young  blokes we call them “yobs.” Also, when we swear we must learn to say “bullocks!”

The Queen’s letter also includes 15 rules that we must henceforth follow: We must immediately add the letter “u” to such words as flavor, labor, and neighbor. And, echoing the linguistic advice given above, we are admonished to stop using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with gestures and filler noises such as “like” and “you know.” (She has a point there.) Needless to say, July 4th will no longer be a holiday and all other holidays will henceforth be referred to as “bank holidays.” We must learn to resolve conflict without using guns, lawyers or therapists  (now there’s a hard one!).  She thinks our reliance on such things simply proves we are not ready for independence. Accordingly, we will not be allowed to carry in our possession anything more potent than a vegetable peeler — and we must have a permit for that.

Further, we must immediately convert to the metric system and make all intersections roundabouts. This will apparently help us appreciate more fully the British sense of humor. “Gas” will be replaced by “petrol” and the price will go to $10.00/gallon where it is in Great Britain. This is supposed to teach us true thrift and increase global awareness. She also wants us to get rid of “football” since it doesn’t involve much kicking and is really “run back-and-forth and throw the ball.” And baseball must also go because we insist on calling our national championship “The World Series” even though we don’t invite other countries. There are a couple of other rules as well, but they seem to me to be silly. These are the important ones.

I  must say I would have thought the Queen would be fairly pleased to see that we had reelected our President after the other guy had been over there trying to tell them how to run the Olympics. But apparently not. In any event, imagine what the Brits — and the rest of the world — must think about our spending billions of dollars on an election to essentially leave the present government unchanged — while at the same time not ridding ourselves of the lunatic fringe we call the “Tea Party.” I can imagine that’s an especially sore point with Her Majesty given the history of our two countries and all. I guess she was just too polite to mention it.

Sigh Of Relief

‘Tis a day to kick back and catch one’s breath. The most expensive election in history is over and the wealthy have not yet bought themselves a government — though it was very close and don’t think for a moment their efforts will end with this election. People in other countries look at the amounts of money that went into the political toilet in this election and think what immense good could have been done with it and they are sick. I am too. It’s positively obscene.

But the right man won the highest office in the land and the people did the right thing, barely. Let’s hope that now since he need not worry about another election he will have the brass to stand up against the wealthy fat-cats and do the right thing — especially on the environment which can be regarded as job #1 when tied to the economy: clean energy can create millions of jobs and help the economy recover: it’s win/win. Keep your fingers crossed.

Whew!

Pointing The Finger

In a provocative story in HuffPost we find the Republicans blaming hurricane Sandy for the predicted loss of their Presidential candidate. Instead of talking of the devastation and suffering the storm has caused, or the likelihood that this storm is the first vivid sign for a great many people that the planet is in fact in danger, the talk instead in the Republican camp — especially by “Republican strategist” (read “mega-doner”) Karl Rove — is about how the storm halted their candidate’s momentum. Consider Rove’s comment:

“If you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the [Mitt] Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy,” Rove said. “There was a stutter in the campaign. When you have attention drawn away to somewhere else, to something else, it is not to his [Romney’s] advantage.”

Obviously this comment was made prior to election day. It would suggest that the brain trust within the Republican party was reading the handwriting on the wall and preparing to find someone or something to blame for their loss. It can’t possibly be the result of their man’s inherent inconsistency, his recurring gaffes, his ineptitude, or his proclivity for telling untruths and then denying that they are untruths. It has to be the Frankenstorm…… or something.

I find this story interesting on two counts. To begin with, it suggests that these people are more disturbed about the storm’s impact on the election than on the thousands of people who are struggling to put their lives back together after the worst storm to hit the Northeast in recorded history, or the fact that this storm portends future catastrophes that might in fact dwarf this one. Secondly, it suggests a mind-set that looks for excuses somewhere else: it’s not us, it’s them (or in this case, it). The lack of sympathy for the victims is especially galling. Note the further comment:

Putting all campaigning aside, [New Jersey Gov.] Christie repeatedly commended Obama’s outreach and support in a rare show of bipartisanship — the kind the president has been promising to pursue if he wins a second term. Earlier on Saturday, Politico reported that the Romney campaign was frustrated by Christie’s recent show of affection for Obama, another sign that they felt their candidate had been placed in a losing position on account of the storm.

Again the lack of sympathy for their fellow humans and nothing kind to say about one of their own who had the audacity to show his gratitude to a politician from the other party. Christie, as expected, apologized to the Republican leadership and came back quietly into the fold. He aspires, after all, to be the Republican Presidential candidate the next time around. In any event I don’t yet know who will be our next President. But I sincerely hope it is a man who has people around him who have their priorities straight, who know what is important — that the suffering of their fellow humans is more important than winning an election. And I also hope they are people who are willing to take responsibility for their actions.

Nostalgia, Satire, and Bigotry

The satirical Onion (“America’s Finest News Service”) has a provocative article that begins as follows:

WASHINGTON—With just days left before the election, the nation’s 150 million registered voters have started to remember the simple, reassuring comforts of entrusting control of their country to an extremely out-of-touch white man, sources confirmed Monday.

In the wake of the presidential debates, multiple polls have shown that citizens nationwide are beginning to recall, with great clarity, the soothing, familiar sense of security that comes with handing total domestic and foreign policy authority over to a sixtysomething white male who is completely cut off from any way of life other than his own. And with the country having gone four years without such a familiar, calming, clueless Caucasian presence in the Oval Office, experts reported the populace is now overcome with nostalgia.

I have blogged before about how this country is easily taken in by images — especially the ones recently seen on Debate TV. Though clearly tongue-in-cheek, this article makes an important point. It cites “studies” that have shown we want the comforting image of a sixty-something white man with grey on his temples to take us by the hand and lead us into the next four years. True or not, it would seem plausible given the level of fear and uncertainty in the country.

I recall a bit by stand-up comic Shelley Berman back in the 60s when the comedian mimicked a calm and soothing voice coming over the speaker on an airplane just prior to takeoff: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Captain Holbrook speaking…” and Berman, who professed to be scared to death to fly, cut in and said “It’s Daddy! Daddy’s taking us flying!” The same sort of thing might very well be going on in this election. How else to account for the fact that millions of people in this country plan to vote for a man with as many faces as Eve who lies through his teeth while showing himself unwilling to retract his falsehoods in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary? Daddy’s going to make things right. Daddy’s taking care of us. Obama doesn’t fit that image: he’s the wrong color.

A recent study reveals that more than half of the white people in this nation are prejudiced against black people. I dare say many Hispanics also have their prejudices, as do the Blacks themselves. Prejudice seems to be a common human attribute and plays no color favorites. But we did manage to elect a black President the last time around, although the more reliable pundits tell us he will lose the popular vote this time. They also say, thank heavens, he will win the electoral college vote and be reelected. When this happens it will result in immediate calls by the Romneyites and their minions to trash the electoral college which is an eighteenth century invention designed to safeguard the country from idiots in high political office. It hasn’t worked since politics is overrun with idiots, but the electoral college may be short-lived after this election if the corporations that pull the political strings have to deal with the fact that it interfered with the election of their man.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how many fools in this country buy into the comforting image of a duplicitous businessman who was handed success on a platter and is out of touch with practically everyone around him who doesn’t happen to belong to his country club. If Mitt Romney wins the popular vote, as predicted, it will tell us something about ourselves we may not want to know. To paraphrase Lincoln let’s hope you can’t fool enough people this time around, that the voters in this country aren’t that easily duped and just maybe are a bit less bigoted than we have been led to believe. Time will tell.

A Moral Quandary

I was checking out my Facebook the other day and happened to glance at a couple of the ads on the right-hand side of the posts. I saw a brief note about a test that would tell me which candidates for President I was most in agreement with. I thought it would be amusing to find out how close I was to the man I planned to vote for in the election so I clicked on the link and took the test. It consisted of a number of questions in various categories from economics to the environment. A few seconds after completing the test I was told that I was in almost total agreement with….Jill Stein.

Who the Hell is Jill Stein, I wondered? I knew there were other candidates for President besides the Big Two, but I hadn’t really paid much attention. Like so many others in this country my attention has been directed toward the two men who have paid out a nauseating $1 billion apiece to buy the highest office in the land — much of it coming from the hated corporations who are now running this country. I checked Jill Stein’s web page (such as it is) and discovered that she has raised a paltry $300 thousand in her efforts to win the Presidency. Hardly enough to win her a place in the state legislature. But I also learned that she is a remarkable woman. As her web page notes:

Dr. Jill Stein is a mother, physician, longtime teacher of internal medicine, and pioneering environmental-health advocate.

She is the co-author of two widely-praised reports,  In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development, published in 2000, and Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging, published in 2009.  The first of these  has been translated into four languages and is used worldwide. The reports promote green local economies, sustainable agriculture, clean power, and freedom from toxic threats.

It was Dr. Stein’s fierce stand on the environment that placed us close together in our thinking about politics I realized. I have noted, as have others whose blogs I read, that there has been precious little said about the environment by the Big Two during recent months and this has disturbed me a great deal. I regard it as THE most important issue in this election. And yet the two principal players seem to have ignored the issue completely. This places me in a moral quandary.

I was critical of some of my friends back when George W. Bush was running for President because they had determined to vote for Ralph Nader. I felt strongly (as I still do) that this was throwing a precious vote away that would end up landing “W” in the office of President of the United States. I was convinced that this would be a very bad thing, and I was right. So I hesitate to throw my vote away on a Green Party candidate who hasn’t a snowball’s chance of winning the Presidency.  Hence the quandary: it’s a question of throwing away my vote or violating my principles. But then I recall that Dante tells us Hell is a frozen wasteland with relentless winds. A snowball would survive in such an environment, and the environment is the key issue here. So I wonder. What do I do? What would you do? I am eager to get your comments on this difficult issue.