Our Next Leader

Has been in training for this for 50 years.

Joe Biden came from nowhere in a crowded, strong field of contenders as a worn-out, old guy because it dawned on his party that Biden was exactly the right person for the moment.

CNN, which has been leading the news hounds wisely for the past year, did a brilliant survey the other day of Biden’s comments relative to today over the past 50 years.

Without using the exact words, the CNN piece nonetheless conveyed a single, important point: THIS MAN IS PREPARED TO LEAD AT THIS VERY MOMENT IN TIME!

There never is one perfect way to solve problems in an aggressive, competitive and complex world.

 But there are always ways to craft solutions, IF one looks with an open mind, to work compromises that help EVERYONE work together to make things happen.

For too long in recent years, we have been beating each other to death with competing ‘policies’ to solve all problems.

If we stop trying to sell the other guys on how smart we are and how dumb they are, we can start to see that we all have some part of the same problems and that if only we could listen and hear one another, we would find solutions TOGETHER.

Boy is that a sweet TUNE!

It turns out Biden has been doing that consistently in various ways for those 50 years, forging alliances and relationships that can overcome the partisan gridlock that is otherwise the hallmark of Congress.

There must be a God out there to have arranged for Biden today, like she did with FDR in 1932 and Churchill in 1940. Whether the work of a deity, fate, or simply the luck of the stars, we should be thankful that it delivered Joe Biden at this very moment!

Our Next World?

The word “next” is deliberate.

Let’s start with a guess at the next economic/financial world, because in theory what it ‘says’ (if we can understand it) may be what millions of people do or will come to believe. But we cannot stop there, because we humans often confuse what we hope with what we think.

On one level, the markets suggest the worst may be quickly at hand, then behind us, and the future will be very good. Fixed income markets are still producing VERY little return. That says quite clearly that too much money is looking for ‘homes’ and that too few ‘homes’ are looking for money.

That has been amplified by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve which have both opened all their spigots for pouring more money into the system to ensure the whole system remains fluid and liquid as it adapts to the rapidly changing world.

The stock market is at all-time highs in the face of all-time uncertainty and change, which by itself is very unusual.

Stocks have been led by a few amazing companies like Amazon, Apple and Google which indeed have been positioned almost perfectly for our times. One need not open one’s door to go shopping for anything and everything from Amazon, EXCEPT to let the delivery persons bring it in, often the same day it is ordered.

Apple has dusted off its iPhone so that they seem to anticipate our every thought and move.

And, Google will help us find IT – whatever IT is? – if it exists, wherever it exists.

The prices of those companies’ stocks are hard to comprehend, but what they do is equally hard to grasp.

The rest of the marketable companies’ stocks are far less overvalued, but the market seems to say most of those companies still will have a good part to play in the coming world.

How is this possible? Easy.

The vaccine is here, and, in a few months, we can expect to see and hear that the pandemic is inching towards HERD immunity, when it will cease to grow and begin to recede.

The economy has been adapting and changing rapidly during the crisis and is likely to be more efficient and profitable overall thereafter as a result.

Some things will change a lot.

Business travel, for example, will plummet. Zoom and its competitors have revealed that WIFI meetings may be even more productive and effective than old-fashioned, face-to-face meetings.

We will also see a reduced need for office space as many enterprises have discovered they need less space for people who do not need to work in offices conventionally all the time.

Tens of millions of workers will gain billions of hours of productive time as a result of this shift by not commuting to work every day.

The market seems to like these prospects a lot.

We should pay attention and roll with the punches.

So, even though conventional thinking suggests that caution is a proper watchword, perhaps us oldies have to shake ourselves into a more progressive attitude.

And that leads to a hint about my next piece, which will deal with the political world that surrounds all this.

Biden looks more and more like the PERFECT human to be the world’s next democratic leader.

Giving is the Beginning of Everything

Starting with Christmas

The origins of Christmas are surrounded by many stories about Jesus Christ and early German history about the Yule season. 

They are mostly about how it is better to give than receive; but it is really all about how humanity knits together the infinite different strands of people who make up our diverse world. 

My sister, Lucinda Bunnen, just published a book of some of her photographic art entitled Constant Impermanencefeaturing film that had been exposed to rainy weather. The damage gives the subjects of the photographs a new and different elegance. Indeed, nothing remains the same for long—particularly in today’s world—and what does is constantly changing from real into unreal. 

Looking at my sister’s art through that lens of impermanence produces memories and new ideas galore. 

Let’s stipulate that all the Christmas traditions –religious and other—are about one thing –and one thing ONLY. 

That thing is Humanity –all the humans on Mother Earth—bound together around a single simple idea: giving. 

We Came Together—We Stay Together! 

Some like it hot; some like it cold. 

I like it in a MUG!!!! 

Presidential Insanity

I’ve been mystified by the unwillingness of many people – including my most progressive friends – to say out loud what has become obvious in Donald Trump’s post-election rampage through democracy: Our President is insane.

Of course, many of us knew he was not quite ‘right’ all along, but no one declaimed his utter madness. And few gave thought to the harm a TRULY INSANE President might do to our country.

To be sure, there was lots of hand wringing about Trump’s extreme narcissism; but mental health professionals warned against remote diagnoses, and we’ve been culturally attuned (reasonably so) to avoid disparaging the mentally ill by bandying words like “insane” casually.

And, in fairness, in 2016 virtually no one thought Trump could win. Right up until Election Day, Trump was playing a role we had become accustomed to seeing him in – cheap entertainment, playing to our basest motives. It didn’t matter if he was mad — that just made the show more entertaining while we awaited its foregone conclusion. Except that everyone was wrong – in TV terms, the series finale became a season finale with a twist, Trump as President, and the show was renewed for four more seasons.  

Our Constitution puts tremendous power in the hands of a President. Recent White House discussions about seizing voting machines, forcing new elections or imposing martial law highlight the serious risk of a President not entirely (remotely!) in control of his mental faculties. And advisors are now privately warning reporters and others about Trump’s rapidly deteriorating mental state.  

Why, then, are we having such trouble saying out loud what is so abundantly clear? There is nothing in law or nature that says a President cannot be insane. Some part of the explanation involves pure exhaustion. Having deposed the mad king, it’s emotionally easier to hide under the covers and wait out the storm. Indeed, there are only a few days left before Trump’s POWER is extinguished at noon on January 20, 2021.

Unfortunately, Trump’s actions since Election Day have made it clear that there’s no hiding from the clear and present danger he presents to the Republic. So, let’s say it OUT LOUD: Trump is insane, and must be stopped. Now.

Our military leaders should make it clear (and public) that they will not follow any order attempting to undermine public confidence in the election or overturn the will of the voters.

The Judiciary should inform the President that he’s run out of tilts at the legal windmill, and that it will not further indulge his fraudulent and corrosive claims.

And, though I don’t expect the spineless sycophants of this administration to do anything, it’s worth noting that the 25th Amendment was designed for a moment like this.

So far, democracy has withstood the assault Trump launched against our country even before Election Day. Our institutions have been shaken but remain standing. We are, in the end, likely to survive this interregnum, beaten and battered but not broken.

And, on Jan 21, 2021 Biden should appoint a Presidential Commission to study and propose a Constitutional Amendment to address and prevent any recurrence of this dangerous dance around Presidential insanity!

On the Covid Vaccine, Self-Interest Will Win Out

Evidence of millions of early results should settle it.

With two highly-effective vaccines now being distributed across the country, the biggest hurdle in the fight against Covid-19 remains what it has always been: the legions of naysayers who won’t wear masks, don’t social distance, and, so far, insist they don’t trust, need, or intend to receive the vaccine.

In the midst of a raging pandemic, it shouldn’t be this hard to sell the American public on a life-saving remedy. And, indeed, it probably won’t be.

Even before the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved, public support and acceptance of a hypothetical vaccine of reasonable efficacy was slowly climbing. In September, almost half of Americans said they wouldn’t get vaccinated; By late November, roughly 60 percent were ready and eager to take the vaccine and put their portion of this national nightmare behind them.

Now, the vaccine is real, and as it is distributed to millions of health care workers, nursing home staff and residents, and other vulnerable populations, more information on efficacy and side effects will be gathered and revealed. Assuming the former to be high and the latter tolerable, as promised, the evidence of the vaccine’s benefits will grow weekly.

Despite some inevitable doubters, most people will come around, rather easily I suspect, to accept the overwhelming evidence of benefit to both themselves and their loved ones, as well as all their neighbors.

In the meanwhile, if vaccinations continue apace and much of the population at large continues to wear masks and remain socially distant, the virus will begin to slow and slacken its miserable hold on our lives.

Of course, there may be a possibility that the record pace at which the current vaccines were developed, tested and rolled out has masked other unseen but real problems. That would be a disaster – the doubters would say ‘I told you so’ and public confidence would be severely undermined. Like so much else with this pandemic, it is clear our best approach is to stick with the (non-political) scientists unless proven wrong. So far, science shows that the vaccines are both safe and effective.

Therefore, we should move with all due haste to vaccinate as large a chunk of the population as accept it, and not worry, for now, about the rest.

Our goal should be to protect as many people as practically possible, and as quickly as possible. The others will come around, in due course, though some holdouts will undoubtedly insist on their right to try to prove Darwin correct.

Either way, it’s now likely that the vaccine and reasonable adherence to reasonable health guidelines will carry us to the finish line satisfactorily, probably in the latter part of 2021.

Then the economy can get back on track so life can return to something resembling normal, though likely very different, from what came before.

And, one hopes, we will know what to do when the next virus comes.

A Fix for Social Media

Which Emerged from the Internet On Its Own.

Facebook, Twitter, and all the other places where all people can, and do, go to ‘get together’ and swap stories and ideas has devolved into a cesspool made strangely of a combination of good and healthy human intercourse which is naturally productive, AND also, sadly, morbid and deadly mistruths which are eating away the basic underpinnings of our social order.

More and more people are becoming aware of this, as well as many institutions that make up our world.

There is a rapidly growing sense that this problem needs to be addressed.

Standing in the way is a mistaken belief that ‘freedom of speech’ makes it impossible to do anything.

There is not, and never has been a First Amendment right to propagate mistruths, lies, and slanders about events and people. That social media makes its bread and butter from such vitriol is a fundamental problem for what used to be a solidly sensible society.

Up until now our world has had a reasonable way of self-policing way such distortions, so that they could/would not destroy the foundations of our world. The best example is the editorial processes of news organizations.

The Internet brought the means to amplify and magnify wrong stuff with little resistance; cell phones ensured the reach became immediate and limitless.

How can we counter that situation, before it destroys our foundational truths and any hope of a shared reality?

It should not be necessary to kill social media (tempting as it may be).

Yet, we need government to create a system that can intervene and judge when social media has allowed/enabled untruth and unreality to go to extremes which threaten the basic reality fabric of society itself.

That system would basically use its power to scan and review all information that enters the system before publication and compare it to well-established known truths (such algorithms are already used to flag posts that end up with warning labels or hidden behind disclaimers). A post or comment that didn’t offend the truth would continue on to be published without interruption.

Those flagged as possible offenders would be diverted into a review process by which the post and unbiased contextual information would be sent to teams of moderators, assigned by proven neutral Commissioners, for a recommendation which the Commissioners would then send to the people on both sides of the factual debate.

 If the matter can be settled at that point, all to the good.

If not, the Commissioners would have the power to order the offending content withheld and, if appropriate, assess a stiff penalty against the offender.

In the event of a repetitive pattern of abuse, the Commissioners would have the power to fine the social media organization, in a meaningful way, if they do not deny the use of their system to such abusers.

And, if the social media organization refuses to obey the Commissioners, they would have the power and authority to shut down that platform.

The above is obviously only a rough way of creating an overall process, yet to be invented.

But something like that must be discovered and invented.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Facebook and Twitter except their susceptibility to gross misuse.

They seem not to want to or feel they cannot do anything about that.

Thus, the time has arrived that it must be forced on them!

We/Me?

Is Our World Upside Down and Backwards?

One thing I think most people – at least those lucky enough to remain somewhat rational in today’s world – are confused and worried about is the extremes of detachment from reality that we all encounter in our daily lives.

Nearly every time we turn around something strange and inexplicable happens because other people see whatever it is in a new and different way?

For instance, a heavy picture on a wall, which has hung safely for 40 years FALLS, breaking valuable antique bowls and tearing the painting. Ten days later, the wall starts spouting water. Then the wall begins to crumble. When the wall is opened, it is apparent that the copper pipes have been leaking with pin holes for a long time and it all finally came to a miserable head.

I do not believe there has been a similar period like this ever before in human history when things we have legitimately taken for granted for decades betray us. My home repair woes, of course, pale in comparison to other examples of the basic point. Things like being able to dine in a restaurant, or the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next are, suddenly, no longer assured.

Why?

I’ve written before of the possibility that it might be nature fighting back –protecting us from our very selves by thinning our ranks to, ultimately, save humanity.

WOW! That thought is a headful and mouthful of amazement. Given the unreality that surrounds us, the idea cannot be easily embraced or dismissed. But it is the only explanation I can think of for what we are experiencing!

Closer to home – indeed, never far from reach — it seems to me that what we call ‘social media’ is the primary force separating more and more of us from a foundation of shared reality. Malevolent, often anonymous actors swarm every corner of the internet with fabrications, overwhelming (indeed, mocking) the mainstream media, the traditional arbiters of fact in matters of social import.  Trump may not be the cause of that, but he has set a pace, pushed the limits, and established a horrible example.

What might be done to counter that surely insidious process?

Our First Amendment, which correctly protects freedom of speech, stands in the way of many efforts to curb propagation of mistruths—such as copper pipes DO NOT EVER LEAK!

However, our ‘freedom of speech’ has some sensible limits –like that one cannot cry fire in a crowded theatre—UNLESS there really is a fire.

So, TRUTH in such a case trumps freedom—as it should.

That says to me that any process that properly sorts FACT from FICTION in social media, and our own homes, should/would exempt fictitious assertions from freedom of speech protections.

The we/me dichotomy is also at the heart of that problem. When we think we, we tend to be together? When we think me, we tend to think me, me, me!

The next blog takes off from there.

The End Is In Sight

But it retains its mystery.

We proceed into the future with various assumptions and hopes—to make the best for ourselves and our loved ones – even while we recognize that the future is unknowable until it arrives.

At the age of 90 this becomes a much more complicated concept. In one sense, we KNOW the outcome that awaits us, but the timing and manner of our demises ensure at least some mystery persists.

Some of us may wish to get IT over with; others may simply wish to delay the inevitable. Since we can never know if there is any kind of life after death, it is hard to get a grip on which approach is sounder.

So, our only option is to make the very best of what is at hand – both physically and mentally. Perhaps religion came into existence to help many people cope with these questions.

There are other, more immediate ends in sight that concern me, as well. While Trump seems certain to fail in his effort to overturn his electoral defeat, it remains to be seen if he makes it to January 20 and what awaits him at the conclusion of his Presidency.

Efforts to exact justice for a variety of crimes (in and out of office) may “feed the beast” – enraging his followers (who already believe the election was “stolen”). Biden might validly see criminal prosecution as a distraction from his goal of reuniting the country—if he can bottle Trump’s mouth and tweets.

The future is both murky and misleading, because if today’s world is unrealistic and grounded purely in Trump’s imagination, the overall picture cannot be useful or interesting, because it is not meaningful in real terms to normal humans.

Therefore, we all have to be VERY careful NOT to extrapolate our futures based on Trumpian propaganda.

Perhaps a six-month period of universally ignoring Trump (his biggest nightmare) might let us begin to once again see the real world and the future more clearly!

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Pardon Me?

For What? Why? And How?

With his Keystone Kops legal team suffering defeat at every turn, Trump’s flailing efforts to overturn the election will soon be over, and his attention will turn, as it must, to life after the White House.

Much as he predicted his fraud complaints BEFORE the election, Trump has long telegraphed his intention to grant himself a pardon. But the very act of a self-pardon seems to me to be an oxymoron – or worse.

It is a cornerstone of judicial doctrine and common sense that one cannot be their own judge and jury. How any sane person can think, even for a moment, that a President could OR should pardon him/herself is beyond rational thought – except it is familiar territory for Trump.

There is not a single shred of evidence that the founding fathers intended that our Constitution, with its intricate system of checks and balances, ever would allow the pardoning powers conferred on Presidents to be extended to themselves.

It is beyond my imagination that even today’s Supreme Court would resolve the question with anything other than a 9-0 vote against. Upholding it would mean that our Constitution no longer makes sense!!

Indeed, we are dealing with a world that has been shaken loose from its foundations of reality. But some things are so basic they are inviolable. Equal justice for all fits, because without it the essence of democracy doesn’t exist.

It should not be necessary to examine the parts of the question. Pardoning oneself is absurd on its face, because by definition it’s simultaneously an admission of guilt and a “get out of jail free” card. The Supreme Court determined more than 100 years ago that people had a right to REFUSE a pardon specifically because accepting one acknowledges guilt (Burdick v. U.S., 211 F. 492).

While I might enjoy a glimmer of glee at Trump pardoning himself and thereby admitting to any number of crimes, I am not at all fond of the idea that one man can singlehandedly subvert the rule of law, to his own benefit, by his own hand. I am not much into praying BUT I do now pray that this bizarre question not be given any more credence.

Trump’s Crimes and Punishments

Jail Time?

One of the biggest questions that will confront our nation after Donald Trump (finally) leaves office is the issue of his crimes both in and out of office. What are they?

  • Tax evasion
  • Financial fraud
  • Use of government resources for personal benefit
  • Campaign finance violations
  • Obstruction of justice

Not being privy to adequate detail, I can’t say whether Trump might be found guilty of such crimes. But the evidence as publicly known is certainly enough to secure indictments for crimes at the federal, state and local levels.

Whether that is the right course of action is a difficult question. The essential American doctrine that “no person is above the law” emerged specifically from the tyranny of a king. Trump’s crimes appear to be plentiful and significant; ignoring them sets a dangerous precedent and belies the values we profess to cherish.

But the criminalization of politics is itself a threat to those values, embracing the tactics of tin-pot dictatorships and ruthless authoritarian regimes alike. To be sure, Trump himself promoted this dangerous idea with the “lock her up” chants at his rallies and the baseless but relentless accusations of crimes, including “treason,” routinely leveled against his political opponents.

The arguments on both sides are valid. One is simply forced to choose among competing values. To me, the “rule of law” argument wins out, in this case, because the known evidence clearly suggests one or more serious crimes were committed. That can’t be said for the rhetorical bombs Trump is fond of throwing at his opponents (or even his allies, when they cross him). The criminalization of politics is a real problem, but unless prosecutors and courts become complicit, poses only a rhetorical threat to the rule of law. Trump’s crimes, on the other hand, appear to be the real deal. Ignoring them would be an affront to justice.  

What, then, are the penalties we should seek? This is, after all, a man who held our nation’s highest office. Fines – even hefty ones – seem inadequate to the offense(s); significant jail time seems appropriate, even if the thought of a former president wearing a prison jumpsuit makes one shudder. A prohibition on seeking future public office would certainly be welcome but may prove constitutionally difficult – there are any number of elected officials who have reclaimed their office even after being jailed for public corruption!

Trump may yet obviate risks to his freedom at the federal level by pardoning himself (or leaving office early so that Pence might do so on his behalf). That said, it is NOT too soon for President-elect Biden to announce his intention to name a Special Counsel or a commission to consider in detail the crimes that have been committed and make recommendations for a measured but appropriate response. Democracy simply demands that we not ignore Trump’s many violations of both norms and the law.

Trump has not only convinced himself that he did not lose the election, he also seems unaware that he may be following in Jeffrey Epstein’s steps!

Bars beckon Trump – not those with alcohol!