AMERICAN TITANIC: Donald J. Trump in Command

Sailing through the Troubled Waters of Foreign Policy Dilemmas, Domestic Political Polarization and Cultural Clashes

When it Comes to Tom Cotton Kathleen Parker Says it All

In case you don’t know, Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist who describes herself as “mostly to the right of center”, but I think of her as mostly right on the mark in her columns.   I find this is especially true in yesterday’s piece:  Tom Cotton’s grandstand play.

…..which of course is about the letter the freshman senator spear headed and 46 fellow Republican senators signed alerting Iranian leaders that any deal on Iran’s nuclear program was susceptible to be changed once Obama leaves the White House, as if these guys, several of whom have doctorates from American universities, needed to be informed of the basics of American government.

Let me cut to the chase with this snippet from Parker’s piece:

“….  ol’ Tom Cotton, who is actually the youngest senator, is wasting no time establishing himself as a party leader. Rounding up other Republican signatories, Cotton launched a bunker-buster smack in the middle of the negotiations. But to what avail?

Iran quickly dismissed the letter as “propaganda.” Democrats were forced into a partisan corner. Even the seven heroic Republicans who declined to sign the letter have been undermined as they fix their sights on a longer-term strategy to derail a bad deal.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who did not sign the letter, has sponsored what he hoped would be a veto-proof bill requiring congressional approval of any deal with Iran. But for it to be veto-proof, he needs Democrats.

Nice going, guys”.

To me that is the fundamental point of the column, but she makes other good ones as well, so give the whole column a glance.  It’s not long and she writes so well.

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The State of the Union Blah, Blah, Blah…

English: U.S. President greets Senator on the ...

English: U.S. President greets Senator on the floor of the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol before delivering the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight President Obama gives the State of the Union message.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn seemed to sum up the likely national response:  “Well, first of all, the vast majority of America ain’t going to pay attention to this speech and the vast majority of America ain’t  going to pay attention to any of the responses to it.”   The ain’t-s are his way of sounding Oklahoman.   Of course, he plans to quit the Senate before his term ends, so he may be even more jaded than the average Congressman.

I’ll be a part of that majority not paying attention tonight.   In case you are in doubt, I like the president, think him a remarkable man and believe historians will give him decent grades on his presidency, given the multitude of crises he’s had to face on almost a daily basis, accentuated by a Republican party who has so little to offer that most of their efforts have been spent in vilifying and obstructing him.  Their opposition to him is what has kept them together, but these days the seams are splitting like a cheap suit.

The “responses” Coburn refers to will be made by three different members of the Republican party, while a normal party would only have one.  This is further evidence that the Republicans are morphing from a political party into a simmering family feud which is only going to get nastier.

Still, despite my liking the president and disliking the mess the Republicans have made of their party, I just can’t stand to listen to one more Obama speech, as they seem too far removed from dealing with the nitty gritty of actually producing functional change.   Maybe he will surprise me.  I hope he does, but if so I can wait til  tomorrow to hear about it.

What interests me more today is an editorial by Katrina vanden Heuvel:  The Promise of Transpartisanship.   In case you don’t know, she is the editor and publisher of the Nation, which seems to me the ideological equivalent on the far left of the  National Review on the far right, in both cases not usually my go to sources.

But this piece is unique in that vanden Heuvel points out a number of instances of diverse Congressmen and other unlikely cohorts  in  joint efforts that make  sense to someone like me who is more or less in the middle.

For example, David Vitter (R-La.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are working together opposing government bailouts of big banks, while  vanden Heuvel and conservative George Will are applauding their efforts  on the sidelines.

Talk about strange bedfellows.   I have no idea how the proposals vanden Heuvel cites will fare over time, but at least they imply the possibility of opposites attracting when it comes to given issues.   Perhaps the way out of gridlock and Republican chaos is for more joint efforts on selected issues by otherwise staunch foes.   Click the article title above to read more.

Sorry Mr. President, but that  gives me more hope for change than anything you or the three Republican respondents are  likely to say this evening.

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More Gun Control or More Gun Fights at the OK Corral?

The Aurora Colorado killings have focused media attention on gun control and gun violence which is always the case following a killing spree by a deranged soul.  This has prompted a lot of “soul searching” in the words of Fareed Zakaria on his  Global Public Square show this past Sunday morning.  He wants to move past the soul searching and come to terms with “the fact” that we have so much more gun violence in this country than in most others because we have so many more guns.

English: This is the semi-automatic civilian v...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

En route to making his point, he dismisses David Brooks’ argument in a NY Times column last week, that when it comes to these mass killers “it is about psychology, not sociology”.   Brooks, a  supporter of gun control laws though conservative,  argues these killers are uniquely deranged and “if they cannot find an easy way to get a new gun, they’ll surely find a way to get one of the 200 million guns that already exist in this country.  Or they’ll use a bomb or find another way.”

Zakaria sees it differently:  We have no more “nut cases” than other countries, but many more guns, so we should have better gun laws.   Though I respect them both I mostly agree with Brooks and not with Zakaria.

Zakaria conflates two issues that should be kept separate.   One is overall gun violence and the other is killing-spree violence.  We certainly do have a huge amount of guns in private hands,  an eye-popping estimate of  250 million to 270 million.  That’s nearly one for every American (estimated to be about one-fourth of privately owned guns world wide)(*1).   Of course, some of us have many and many of us (including me) have none, but around 50%  of households report owning a gun.

Since our gun related death rate is  around 20 times that of England/Wales, which has relatively few privately owned guns, one imagines a connection to overall death rates.  But there seems no clear cut connection to mass killings.    An article in the conservative National Review describes numerous incidents in several European  countries that have much stricter gun laws than ours, including England.   While making it tougher for the demented to  stockpile guns and ammunition makes sense  –  like keeping sharp objects away from children – Brooks may be right that these safeguards will seldom be enough to deter the diabolically demented.

As for the effectiveness of gun control, the facts are not as clear as Sakaria seems to think.  Justice Steven Breyer is a liberal justice on the Supreme Court who was on the losing end of a 5-4 decision that struck down a Washington D. C. gun control law.   Even so, after Breyer surveyed the vast body of empirical research on the effectiveness of gun control he concluded, “The upshot is a set of studies and counter-studies that, at most, could leave a judge uncertain about the proper policy conclusion.”

If, after a careful study of the issue,  Justice Breyer is uncertain about “proper policy conclusions” when it comes to gun control, shouldn’t all of us who know much less, be careful about jumping to our own conclusions?

Also, rather than more gun control,  studies show an increasing public support for less.   Many have bought into the NRA’s idea that the only real prevention is for each of us to pack iron ourselves.    In Colorado more than in most states.  Last March the  Colorado Supreme Court struck down the University of Colorado’s campus gun ban, saying the CU Board of Regents overstepped its authority in blocking students from carrying licensed concealed weapons.

Tied to that, it has been argued by those on the right that one armed innocent at the theater in Aurora may have saved many others (of course, another imaginable scenario is that the  armed innocent could have  panicked and started firing wildly adding to the carnage.  Also, how do we know whether someone in the the theater did carry a gun but just froze?).

Of course, the distinctions I have tried hard to make may all prove irrelevant in terms of the foreseeable future.   Recognizing the public’s leaning towards less, the Democrats have little enthusiasm for more gun control.  And, though Obama made a statement in support of another assault weapons ban in a recent speech, I don’t take it seriously (*2).   It is simply more political rhetoric to appeal to his base.   Nothing will come of it if he is re-elected.  There are too many bigger fish to fry.

The NRA has won the gun control debate for the time being.  Of course, given the increase of gun toters, one day we will  have a real shoot out like that of the OK Corral, and who knows if the innocents who are packing will act like heroes or panic and make things worse.   I just hope that the NRA’s  gun-use training programs are really good, as I do not have confidence in the ability of the average gun toter to handle things well if suddenly confronted by a well armed demented sort who doesn’t give a flying  “F” what will happen to him or anyone else.

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(*1)  One stat that troubled me in Zakaria’s report was his indicating that Americans own  50% of the world’s  privately held guns.    The information I have found indicates around 25% in 2007, and I can’t imagine it doubling in the past five years.  I think Zakari’s staff just got it wrong.

(*2)   The nature of “assault weapons” seems misconstrued by gun control advocates.  They are not automatic weapons, which are outlawed already, and fire only one shot with a squeeze of a trigger, not many, though they do fire faster than other non-automatics.   They can be fitted with magazines that hold numerous bullets, but that’s true of some other guns as well.  One source of confusion is that what are dubbed assault weapons usually look like they are automatic.   The photo above is an example of that.  And some are knock offs of actual automatic weapons, but without automatic firing capacity.

A Method to My Madness

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Readers,

For most of you, I have no idea, of course, when you began reading this blog and whether you see any rhyme or reason in what I ‘m doing.   Today I’ll try to help with that.  Broadly what I’m about is indicated in In A Nutshell to your  left.   If you read my initial post:  Welcome Aboard – I expand that further and than further still in my HEY! page listed above to your left.

In my initial post I describe my sinking feeling about where we are headed as a nation politically and economically, resulting from various causes:  economic problems, political polarization and the demolition of public trust and the foundations of knowledge through spin, downright lies,  and poor government decisions.

After that, the posts have meandered around a lot, but they have remained within adjacent neighborhoods, in my mind at least.

If we are to save our ship of state, we need to be able to reduce our polarization, so we can actually talk about real solutions to our huge problems.  The other side of that coin is to develop bipartisan efforts, which I mean in the broadest sense possible, not just between the two parties, whose bipartisanship is often at the lowest level, primarily for show and often a bad idea.  This bipartisanship includes developing a deeper understanding of the causes of our ideological conflicts, as suggested by Jonathan Haight and referred to in my post Reflecting on Our Righteous Minds.  Those  with whom we disagree vehemently may not really be such bad people after all.

To reduce our polarization we also need to redevelop trust in common sources of information.  Right now, those on the left have their sources and those on the right have theirs.   “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “but not to his own facts.”  Unfortunately, facts and their relationships are often not clear cut, but instead open to interpretations which themselves are colored by our values.

Beyond honest differences in opinion, are dishonest ones, where facts are manipulated to mislead.  Trust and truth are attached at the hip, but we need hip replacements at this point since political operatives spin truths every which way until they  break both our trust and our confidence that we can discern the truth.

And our media is only theoretically helpful in sorting all this out.   Sure, the internet, etc. gives us access to more information than ever before, but who has the time or attention to sort it all out, except the professional political wonks.  I’m an amateur wonk who spends many hours per week trying to get some clarity, and I barely have a glimpse here or there.  And I have the time because I’m an old bachelor with a slim social life, but what about more regular folks, with rich social lives and families, kids to raise, careers to develop (or maybe these days hunting for any kind of employment)?

So what regular souls have the time?  And our mainstream media  is primarily interested in attracting viewers/readers, which inclines them towards entertaining more than informing (I do a little dance here and there, myself).   The dilemma is you can’t inform someone if you can’t get their attention.  On the other hand, if the attention is primarily focused on entertainment, as might be the case with, say, the Huffington Post, does the attention matter much?

So, my main themes are:   1)  Moving from polarization to bipartisanship 2)  Redeveloping a  common trust in sources of information as being truthful  3)   Battling spin through fact checking services and whatever else we can come up with….  (Glenn Kessler, fact checker for the Washington Post, challenged both presidential candidates weeks ago to each give a 15 minute speech without a single misleading statement.  I think he’s still awaiting a response).

Also,  4)  Reshaping our mainstream political media to offer us much more in the way of insights into our overall situation.  In contrast, let’s say, to their daily obsession of sorting the tea leaves called polls to decide decisively whether Mitt or Barack might be ahead by a  few potential votes  somewhere in America today until the voters change their minds tomorrow.  So stay tuned.   Now that I think of it, maybe my watching TV news and commentary is just a bad habit, for the most part.  Maybe reshaping isn’t the issue, but replacing.

And, last but not least, perhaps foremost of all,  is the ever burgeoning influence of money in politics, but I’ll leave that category alone until I address it in a post some day.

So, I have organized my posts around these  categories just mentioned which are listed in the side bar to the left, along with a few others, such as  amusements.    I view entertainment as our contemporary opium of the masses, and I’m speaking of the middle class masses as well.  I recall a book published in the 1980s:  Amusing Ourselves to Death, which becomes more relevant every day.

Hardly any of us want to think about or talk politics, but when it comes to entertainment, it’s a completely different story.  My post:  Harnessing the Power of Boobs was not irrelevant to politics.   Boob viewing is one form of entertainment.  And like entertainment in general these days, they prompt much more interest than politics.  Not that it’s a fair contest when it comes to boobs, but if politics cannot recapture the interest of millions to the point of at least a fractional amount of the time  we invest in entertaining ourselves, well……..

We might not amuse ourselves to death, but our democracy will die.


A Bipartisan Love Story

Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair party celebr...

Martha Stewart (Wikipedia)

If you didn’t happen to notice, President Obama signed The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act on April 4.  (Stock Act:  Don’t you just love a memorable acronym?).  Bipartisans were oohing and cooing that day, like love birds on their first date.

While it was way overdue and nothing to really get excited about, it is an example of how something positive can actually get done by our congress if the stars align just right.

You probably know that last November 60 Minutes did an interview with Peter Schweizer, a Stanford professor who wrote the book Throw Them All Out, a study of how Congress has profited from their insider knowledge about political decisions that would have an impact on business.

For those looking to triangulate a left/right bias, Schweizer is a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, which should give you a clue (note the  HOOVER part).   However, there is little argument from either side of the spectrum regarding the main thrust of the book:   Congress should not be allowed to do what the rest of us would be jailed for.

Well, duh!

You mean they’ve been allowed to do insider trading all this time?  What?  Makes me feel sorry for Martha Stewart all of sudden.   Not that there haven’t been efforts a foot in Congress for years to restrict this practice, but they got nowhere until the 60 Minutes piece  shined a bright light on the dark corners of those hallowed halls.  I guess with so much time spent on gridlock, it was hard to find a few hours to fix this little flaw.

After the 60 Minutes piece, both the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe looked into the matter and found that, overall, Congressmen and women didn’t do any better with their stock trades than the average Josephine , which the Journal saw as proof the matter was being overblown and the Globe saw as a positive, that at least Congress, in general, wasn’t turning their insider information into Swiss bank accounts.

A tempting, third interpretation might be that Congress was, in general, no more capable of employing insider information to good advantage than they are in producing legislation useful to the American people.   However, that would be like kicking a dog when he is down.   I believe there is more ability there than meets the eye, but it can’t flourish in what has become a dysfunctional institution polluted by acrimony.

But functional enough to realize that a popularity rating of about 15% with the American people might go even lower if they didn’t do something about this outrage they suddenly discovered, so they passed the Stock Act with close to unanimous support.

Both parties hailed this as a great example of bipartisanship, though, as thehill.com noted:  “While members in both parties and chambers were eager to support the legislation, it was not without some controversy. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was loudly critical of a decision by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to trim an amendment Grassley offered that would require political intelligence firms, which seek out information on lawmaking to sell to investors, to register as lobbyists do.”

There were complaints that the register issue would require more study, so a commission was assigned to report in a year, which may be akin to burying a body;  the chances are slim it will  come up for air.   (Note to self:  Look for a report from that commission a year from now)

But let’s not quibble.  And do note, the conflict mentioned was between  two in the same party, not the usual split.  It was a good move by congress to finally correct an injustice that had become obvious to the rest of us.   A researcher and the media shed light on the issue and there was a lot of response from the public and the right thing was finally done.  The good news is the system worked in its stumble bum sort of way.   The bad news is the biggest problems we face are much more complex, with no course of action that is as widely viewed as obvious;  hence our polarization.

An interesting aside is that, though a fellow at Stanford, Schweiser lives in Florida while commuting frequently.   Most of his research is done over the internet.   He says:  “To me, it’s troubling that a fellow at Stanford who lives in Florida had to dig this up.”

Hey, maybe it’s actually a hopeful sign.  A match to ignite a positive change might be struck anywhere.

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More about Peter Schiewzer

More about the Stock Act

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