Thinking Straight

Is Essential to Thinking Right

There is so much going on in our modern world, with so many dimensions of expression, that it should not be a surprise that we often meet ourselves coming around the corners of life.

When we bump into ourselves, or our neighbors (who resemble ourselves), we often think we can and do understand each other.

Despite appearances, we often quickly discover that we do NOT understand each other. We may even turn out to despise each other.

That never can be a good start to a productive relationship.

To think straight, we must be able to work from a common body of recognized understanding. Reciting the alphabet, for example, requires a shared agreement on the number, order and names of the letters; Similarly, imagine the chaos of every financial transaction if there was no clear understanding of “one dollar!”

If we cannot think straight, we will not be able to think “right” – meaning wisely.

Straight thinking is not just honest thinking or common facts; it is taking all the aspects of life in a straight line and dealing with them as they are and as they require.

Today with social media, and all it has become, it is much more difficult to do that because we are being assaulted — by wildly cockeyed thinking — from so many directions at the same time.

So, the answer to these dilemmas is keep reminding ourselves that we first must think straight, so that right thinking can follow.

We cannot and should not assume, or hope, that society will do that for us. It cannot and will not.

We alone are responsible for straight and wise/right thinking!

Leadership

Isn’t what it was cracked up to be!

As we grope our way forward in the face of seemingly daily shootings of one sort or another, a lot of good and thoughtful people keep calling for new and better leadership to find solutions.

It may just turn out that what we need is not more leaders, or more followers, but more people who simply do things.

Consider Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old whose ten minutes of witness (and video) outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis ensured that George Floyd’s death would not go unpunished.

What if lack of leadership is not the most important problem?

In 1980, Cari Lightner was killed by a drunken hit-and-run driver in Fair Oaks, California. Her name might have been forgotten, but her mother’s grief led her to form Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which created a movement that has drastically reduced the rate of drunk driving in our country.  

John Boehner – former Republican Speaker of the House — found his own caucus unmanageable. Elected to be leaders, his “Crazytown” cohorts were instead determined to be rabble rousers.

Perhaps the age of leaders has passed. It may be that our “leaders” no longer serve the public good, but their own self-interests in reelection and their friends demands.

That, in turn, suggests the hidden lesson in this matter is not to wish for more and better leadership BUT to nurture much more enlightened non-leaders concerned only with living in a world they are proud to be part of!!

Perhaps the missing element is more individual enlightenment in the presence of obvious necessity?

The Second Amendment

Has a Gaping Hole

The Second Amendment has long been held to prevent mostrestrictions on the saleofguns to ensure the availability of arms for the “well-regulated militia.”

They are, perhaps, the most vexing words in the Constitution. However one interprets them, it IS clear that states can require all gun sales to be registered and that unregistered guns can be taken away.

Indeed, a handful of states already require registration to varying degrees – encompassing all firearms in Hawaii, California and Washington, D.C., assault weapons and/or handguns in a handful of others.

But even more states PROHIBIT the registration of firearms as an infringement of Second Amendment rights. The vast majority ignore the subject entirely.

Federal law forbids using the existing background check system – meant to keep guns from felons — as a registry of firearms.

While it would be a lot better for there to be fewer guns everywhere, that is not politically possible, at least at this time. But registration should be achievable in a fair number of states, in large part because it works. Six of the 10 states with the lowest per-capita firearms mortality require registration of some or all firearms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (the District of Columbia, which is not included in the CDC figures, would be a seventh). In those states, gun deaths occur at about half the rate of the next best states, and at a quarter of the worst states.

Registration of firearms (at the original point of sale and any time possession changed hands) need not be any more onerous than a driver’s license. The penalties for possession or use of an unregistered gun could be quite significant.

People could be given a reasonable period for either disposing of guns or properly registering them. Failing to do so could lead to very large fines and confiscation of the guns.

And the appropriate government officials could have ample authority to subpoena owners and their guns. And, citizens could be rewarded appropriately for calling unregistered guns to their attention.

Every time there are fatal mass shootings (45 in a recent 30-day period, according to CNN), or tragic accidents (too many involving children), the population grinds its teeth with frustration.

If we cannot reduce the number of guns out there, at least we can know where they are and who owns them.

That, hopefully, would reduce shootings and, in due course, lead to fewer guns.

And, who would be hurt?

Law-abiding citizens who want to protect themselves and their homes would be better off, and the loopholes that put guns in the wrong hands would be closed.

Bottom line: gun registration saves lives. In a nation becoming too casual about preventable deaths, that cannot be ignored.

Fear

Of Fear

Perhaps we have been looking in all the wrong places for explanations and reasons why our world is so riven with divisions, anger and distrust.

We have been looking at how and why our political process is not working.

We have been looking at how and why different parts of our population look down at and dismiss other parts of our population.

We have been looking down at the education system.

(Yes, I, too, am tired of looking down at….)

We also have been looking at how to encourage people to work together, sadly with little success.

Still, right under our noses is a basic issue, which has largely been overlooked the whole while, and is probably the basic problem.

That is simply FEAR of fear!

FDR got it right in 1933 when he was sworn in as President and said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”

We know what people were afraid of in 1933; what about now?

Simply said, the unknown. That impacts different people in different ways, depending on their circumstances. Those ways include:

Economic Insecurity. The growing wealth divide – greatly exacerbated by the pandemic – has left millions homeless, jobless, or simply struggling to get by. Tens of millions more are uncertain what the future holds.

Social Insecurity. The demographic changes taking place in our country have left a large segment of the population fearful of their place in the new social fabric. The demonstrations for racial justice that have rocked the country are scary to people who have been conditioned to view anyone else’s progress as their own setback.

Political Insecurity. On one hand, white rural voters are ridiculously advantaged in the current constitutional system – a quarter of the nation’s population controls the majority of seats in the U.S. Senate. On the other hand, minority voters confront an onslaught of new restrictions proposed specifically for the purpose of disenfranchising them. Both see – and fear – their voices being drowned out by others.

Fear and uncertainty probably are scarier and more worrisome than jealousy and anger.

The antidote to fear is HOPE.

FDR came aboard in 1933 and spelled out his grounds for hope then.

It did not happen overnight; but it got started.

Now it begins with Biden’s virus attack and his ‘infrastructure’ plan.

We are back on the right track —FINALLY!!! To be certain, infrastructure alone isn’t going to solve the problems facing us.

But Biden’s plan is clear: restore the ability and determination of government to serve as an engine for economic security and, by extension, reassure people that no problem is too great for a determined nation to overcome. Slowly, surely (if he is successful), this approach can starve the conspiracy theories, divisions, and other social ills of oxygen.  

FDR had his New Deal.

Biden now has his “Here’s the deal!”  

Dissecting a Life

The George Floyd Example

Virtually the whole world has seen the 9-minute film depicting Floyd’s murder. And make no mistake, by any common definition of the word, Derek Chauvin did indeed murder George Floyd.

But, as is usual in cases of white police officers accused of unnecessary violence against people of color, Derek Chauvin is not the only one on trial. Instead, his lawyers have tried mightily to blame Floyd himself, insisting the drugs in Floyd’s system were the cause of his death rather than the force of Chauvin’s knee on his neck, and jumping at every opportunity to highlight Floyd’s troubled past.

It’s a tactic well-known in rape cases, where victims of sexual violence are accused of “inviting” the violence against them by their choices of clothing or drunken flirtations, and whose entire sexual histories become fair game for defense lawyers to use to suggest that “sluts” somehow forfeit the right to say “no.”

In both circumstances, the strategy is simple: paint the victim as “different” — in appearance, behavior or myriad other ways — and suggest they are therefore less entitled to equal justice under law.

In the moments before George Floyd died, it mattered not a whit – legally or ethically – that Floyd was a drug user, or that he had passed a counterfeit $20 bill to a store clerk. The ONLY thing that mattered was Chauvin’s knee, pressed on Floyd’s neck long after he had been effectively restrained.

To its credit, the Minneapolis law enforcement establishment seems to want nothing to do with this defense. Police officials have been clear and adamant in saying that Chauvin’s actions weren’t justified and were inconsistent with both his training and department policies on use of force. The medical experts have been forthright and insistent in declaring that the cause of death was not drugs, but the inadequate flow of oxygen in Floyd’s body.

That is an all-to-rare exception to the famous “thin blue line” hagiology that insists it’s a betrayal for one officer to testify against another, or that their jobs are so dangerous and stressful that deadly mistakes are inevitable.

There was nothing inevitable about George Floyd’s death. There were several long, excruciating minutes when Chauvin could have recognized he had gone too far, when one of the other officers on the scene could have intervened to save Floyd’s life, when any of them could have heeded the pleas of the bystanders (who are also being blamed by Chauvin’s lawyers – for the added “pressure” they brought to the situation by videotaping it and begging the officers to ease up.)

It is too soon to predict how this case will turn out, but it is possible to see signs of hope in the case the prosecution has presented so far. Whether it’s enough to overcome the ingrained advantages Chauvin enjoys, or to persuade 12 ordinary, fallible human beings to unite in declaring Chauvin guilty of murder, remains to be seen.

Such ambitious hopes have been dashed – over and over again – but the dreams of a more just society will persist.

Politics is Not Binary

Choices Are On a Continuum

“Ranked Choice Voting” (RCV) which already is in place in several states, offers an interesting and potentially very important adjustment to resolve the up-or-down, either/or problems of our two-party system.

RCV, in its simplest terms, allows all voters to select more than one candidate, in the order of their preference. Those second (and third, or more) choices are included in the results if no candidate receives an absolute majority (50 percent plus one) of the votes in their district.

Today, most elections are binary choices – one of the major party candidates receives more votes than the other and is declared the winner, even if they attracted barely 40 percent of the total vote. Some states have run-offs, but those simply lop off candidates who don’t make the top-two cut.

Ranked choice voting prevents anyone from winning an election without majority support. That single requirement carries several important benefits:

  • It pushes candidates toward the middle of the political spectrum. Candidates (those for competitive seats, anyway) can’t draw a majority from their base alone – they have to appeal to independents and members of the other party to cross the finish line. Candidates at the fringes aren’t likely to make it.

  • No one’s vote is “wasted.” Today, third party candidates have the challenge of drawing votes in the face of inevitable defeat and are often castigated as “spoilers.” RCV ensures those votes can directly influence the outcome when no candidate receives an outright majority in the initial voting.

  • It provides a much more nuanced understanding of the electorate. RCV gives us a deeper, broader picture of where the electorate lives on the political spectrum, the issues they’re most concerned with, and the kinds of candidates they are willing to support.

With our problems of insurmountable impasses with binary solutions (ours or theirs), it is in ALL our interests to see where “human citizens really are” and factor that into policy decisions of importance to all citizens on all sides of all issues.

The basic processes of RCV are that the voter is asked to name a first choice and two or more others in order of preference.

All the “first choice” votes are tallied, and if no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and other candidates are given his or her “second choice” votes. Repeat until someone hits the magic threshold and a winner is declared.

There are a number of other methodologies used – assigning points (3 for the candidate ranked #1, 2 for the next, and 1 point for a third, for example). The variations don’t change the basic thrust of RCV: enhancing voters’ voices in the election of people to represent them.

There is no partisan advantage to RCV – it simply better reflects where voters are than where the two-party system wants to take them. And there’s reason for both parties to support the idea. Fun fact: Ranked choice voting would have delivered the Senate to Mitch McConnell if it had been in place in Georgia in November. Then Senator David Purdue fell 3/10s of a percentage point shy of an outright majority on November 3, while the Libertarian candidate pulled 2.3 percent of the total vote. Unless 85 percent of those third-party voters listed Jon Ossoff as their second choice, Purdue would have been declared the winner.

It would obviously take years for the body politic at large to understand and come to trust such systems.

Happily, some experiments are already underway. Maine has used ranked choice voting since 2018, while Alaskans have adopted it for use beginning in 2022. And more than a dozen municipalities used ranked choice voting – from liberal bastions like San Francisco (and, beginning this year, New York City) to places like Henderson, North Carolina.

We need some more!! This is democracy at work!

Human Lives

Governed by the Passage of Time

Picking up where I left off last week…

Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. That Jeffersonian summation of “inalienable” rights is as good a description of universal values as any that has been offered up since. And, in theory, it is something we should all agree on. But politics, it seems, is less concerned with theories of philosophy than the laws of man.

One part of the problem is that relatively few people are concerned enough with the “universal” to set aside the “personal.” From that vantage point, your rights are important only to the extent they do not impede mine.

The result is an endless push and pull. For every action to advance the human condition for all, there is an equal and opposite reaction to restore a disequilibrium that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Case in point: After two hundred plus years, the Republic elected its first Black president. In reaction, the country subsequently elevated a racist snake oil salesman to “make America great again” — meaning only for white people.

Action and reaction. Our history is replete with examples of incremental progress that encountered fierce (and often violent) reactions.  And these conflicts have often centered on issues of race, gender or other forms of “otherness.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously insisted that “the arc of moral history is long, but it bends toward justice.” (Oh, were that so.)

The American experience provides little evidence to support such an optimistic assessment. We ended slavery more than 150 years ago, but even today are arguing over whether “Black Lives Matter.”

We have lost the sense of common cause that once brought us together as a nation dedicated to the ideal that all are created equal. That, too, is reflective of physics in the law of entropy, which requires that disorder increase over time. Mass shootings, attempted insurrection, endless wars and other facets of modern life reaffirm that endless slide into chaos.

To repeat from last week: the endless loop of humanity speaks loudly to me that the lesson for life today is to go with a flow in which ALL humans get their chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, with no “clan” singled out for either disdain or special treatment.

The many problems confronting our country will not be resolved until we are again united in advancing the Jefferson ideals that sparked a revolution and the longest-standing democracy in history.

It is well known that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate – a phenomenon that, if not reversed, portends a future of inescapable isolation. Is our blip of an existence here on Earth destined to suffer the same fate? 

Perhaps the universe is trying to tell us something.