Salt Water – Fresh Thinking!

I have known, for 75 years, that I love spending time in the summer months on the coast of Maine in a small town. Everything about it is refreshing and different from living in New York City.

I now am discovering that it also clears the space and cobwebs between my ears and helps bring alive interesting thoughts and ideas that I had not plowed up before!

Since the November 2016 Presidential election we have all been facing a menacing picture of a tribally-driven society upsetting people everywhere, as it was way back in 1860 in the run up to the Civil War, when THE issue was basically slavery.

Many people now talk about how so many people who have so much good stuff in common (like simply being residents of the USA) can stumble into the seemingly inescapable trap that plays on a few differences that really are not at all basic to what we all do have in common.

To begin, about 10% of Americans were born abroad and another 30% have at least one grandparent born abroad. The overwhelming majority of us, of course, have forebearers who came to this country from elsewhere, differing only in how long ago the trek was made. How can it be possible that so many Americans, who owe their very existence as Americans to immigration, now want to pull up the ladder and stop such future immigration? I guess the answer is pretty simple—now that I am here I simply want to keep it as is! They seem to forget that it is people like them who made America like it is now, and if they change that process, America will not change and grow as it has in the past.

I know a father and daughter who have extreme disagreements over all aspects of Trump. They are both lawyers; both are bright and well educated, and stubborn. Obviously they have blood in common; culture in common and family bonds that often help bridge differences. The daughter is dutiful and despite her anger at her father she regularly helps him out. Put that story in your pipe and smoke out how that dichotomy arises and persists.

As one digs into what explains these differences in specific cases a few interesting things pop up.

Certainty vs doubt. Perhaps there are some people born to be certain about everything they think they see and others born to be cautiously doubtful. Doubt is essential throughout life because it protects us. If more people valued doubt, there obviously would be fewer people rigidly certain. The overall result could be that more people would realize that Mother Nature gave us two hands for good reasons—on the one and on the other?

Religion varies a lot. Some religions are more rigid than others. They all propagate beliefs and beliefs can become the basis of dogma. Dogma too often is a substitute for rational thought, and compels people into an Us vs. Them mentality that is not helpful to a pluralistic society.

Memory is essential – most of us know that if we do not remember history we are destined to repeat it. That assumes that we know some history in the first place. Some people who have ‘poor’ memories do not hesitate to contradict themselves, yet they are upset when they are contradicted.

Vocabulary is essential to communicating and thinking carefully and clearly. Some people are quite poor at this and do not recognize that another person who is both repetitive and simpleminded may not be making sense.

These four elements/characteristics of human process lie at the heart of how our population has been susceptible in recent times to what seems like tribalization which increasingly becomes divisive and hostile.

Most of us can survive with less than our share of good sense. Fewer of us can survive with less than our share of good luck. A lot of self-made people believe that they had both good sense AND good luck. They also have a tendency to appreciate other purely self-made people rather than people who used education and establishment values as their route to success in life.

How do we bridge these kinds of gaps which seem to be at the root of a lot of today’s misunderstandings?

First, it will not be easy or fast.

Second, we ALL have to be willing to try.

Last, we will need to be scared into it, either by the ramifications or by the sniffs of bloody conflict.

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I HAVE SEEN OUR FUTURE!

It is WOMEN!!!

I am tempted to leave it at that. But it may need some explanation to some folks.

Women—and we must remember that broad generalizations have many exceptions—at large are much better prepared in today’s world to lead a democracy, particularly in The United States.

Why a democracy? Families in the main are micro democracies where things get ‘worked out’ not simply dictated. A lot of men work in largish organizations which tend to be hierarchical and commanded.

Women’s experiences in ’running’ homes often accompanied by full time jobs in larger organizations — is much more useful and relevant to running political processes outside homes.

We have had 200+ years of experience with men at the helm. Though we have been slow to learn the value of women leaders, we are truly ready NOW!

The number of women running for Congress this year has risen significantly. That may be partly because polls indicate their chances are better than ever. Most of them have military experience along with family life and other rigorous professional training. Many of them are downright amazing people—one woman I have met has had about 40 had 10 years in the Marines flying helicopters in combat, is a trained lawyer and has 4 children. A supportive husband that assists with family life does not hurt. While it is true that most of our Presidents in the 20th Century were quite well qualified, as we are moving into a different world things point more towards women as our salvation in this country.

Who Is Fit To Be President?

Strange stories appear almost daily.

A man named Michael Avenatti best known as the lawyer for Stormy Daniels—porn star buddy of Trump—has appeared with her a lot in the press lately and now says he is eyeing a run for President in 2020.

Why not Stormy herself?  She looks even better to the male eye and she even seems to be quite bright and clever.

Granted the 1st Amendment gives ALL Americans a right to put their names forward for President—or anything for that matter—but that does not mean that anyone—including the press—has any duty to pass the message along.

Perhaps when we someday get around to fixing flaws in our Constitution we might put on the list some base requirements for a person to be a candidate for President—such as having been a former member of the House and Senate, Governor, or mayor of a city of at least 1 million people.

That way people can find some relevant starting record to base a judgment on a potential candidate.

Trump of course would not have qualified, and Avenatti could have spared us this blog and his own embarrassment for such a stupid idea.

Except thanks to him for bringing the idea to mind.

If we the people heed it!

A 100 Year Thread That May Save America

In 1895 a man named Sears decided to compete with Montgomery Ward.

Sears was a genius at writing deliciously seductive copy for his catalog which, thanks to the introduction of Rural Free Delivery (RFD) spread across the whole country. Until WWII Sears dominated the retail business in the United States. His first big break out came when he popularized the bicycle just before 1900.

Shortly after WWII, a man named Walton started Walmart. He had figured that Sear’s success with its catalog business had blinded it to the need for many more stores away from the biggest population centers. He also figured that with more efficient and stricter inventory management, as well as lower prices that resulted from that, he could beat Sears at its own game. He was right, though it has taken more than 50 years for Sears to fail.

As we turned the corner into the 21st Century (and Al Gore invented the internet), another retail upstart named Bezos imagined mass retailing via WIFI with remote shopping and next day delivery. Bezos is today the richest person in the world, having shoved aside both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

What is the 100 year thread? It is not simply selling things. It is HOW to go about doing that as efficiently and effectively as the mechanics and process of the world at large make possible.

If the managers of those sequential companies had remained on their toes, with their eyes wide open, it is quite likely that passing the torch of leadership would have looked quite different. There really was nothing that the successor companies did that the predecessors could not have done IF they had been awake and tried.

Simply put, succeeding generations of business managers have a big advantage in life. Their predecessors gradually became smug and complacent and lose their ability to see changes in the world, which they once had taken advantage of when they started out.

OK – what does this tell us about our world today—not just about selling/buying things—but about how our world can deal with today’s new changes in our political process?

What are the threads of that story?

Americans easily fall in love with buying things—particularly if it is easier, cheaper and fun. With only minor exceptions this is a primarily an American phenomenon.

It is tempting to say that the one thing that is not for sale is love or state of mind. But that is not really true. Today there are online dating and many other ‘soft’ skills about human behavior not just involving sex.

Perhaps the merchandising/retail conglomerates could conjure up some ‘love thy neighbor’ offerings. Imagine discovering that your closest neighbors love the same things you do!? A field day on your block!

If I could subscribe to something like a big brother/big sister program to get to know personally people anywhere and better understand how they think and the reverse, I would do it in a flash.

The thread of the retailing story of the past century is that it may have the potential to pull us out of today’s political nose dive.

The common denominator of all Americans is that we are consumers at heart and we are ready to buy peace on earth and good will to all people.

Who/where is the next forward-thinking retailer who will package that for us?

Friends – Acquaintances – Enemies

In the days of the former Soviet Union, prominent Soviet journalists, business people, and even bureaucrats would confidentially tell Westerners that they had many acquaintances but very few friends.

When asked what the differences were, the answer was scary.

The main difference was that, in the Soviet Union, there were things you could only tell your closest true friends – like your sister – because they could get you killed.

An acquaintance could be one who may know where you went to school and that your favorite color was purple. But they could not (should not) be trusted to know anything at all about your economic and political life.

An enemy could be just about anyone who could/might use any information about you to gain for themselves even some small advantage.

Therefore, it was critical for everyone to keep their circle small and keep their head down.

When asked by a Westerner how a stranger could know whether any Russian was a Soviet spy, the answer was very simple: one can never be sure, THEREFORE one should simply assume that everyone might be a spy and act accordingly.

They, and we, have all come quite a long way since those days. The numbers of friends and acquaintances has increased a bit. But in societies that have autocratic tendencies, most people should still be careful to keep their affairs close and simple. It does not take many outright street shootings in public in Russia today to remind most people to be very careful to conceal their likes and dislikes.

Our current political climate in the United States has become a bit more like Russia’s than we would like.

Your political opinions are still quite unlikely to get you killed in the United States, but the rate at which Presidential appointees are being fired and forced out, seemingly almost randomly on a whim, is suggestive of how that process starts to get out of control.

Our current President has clear authoritarian tendencies and has gone after more than a few people who have had the audacity to challenge him. In fact, the streets of DC are metaphorically littered with stray bodies of people he has scattered in his of tweets.

Some of the recipients of his displeasure—such as the former Secretary of State—had the lack of caution of saying to someone that Trump was an idiot. Gone!

If that cabinet officer had followed the Soviet rules of caution, he might still be in office—except that he was also promoting publicly a diplomatic opening with North Korea, which it now appears Trump viewed as his exclusive Nobel Peace Prize province?

It appears that we are reaching a point where it may be wise for more politically active citizens to monitor themselves carefully to limit their utterances lest those sounds/words come back to haunt them in unexpected and unpleasant ways.

While that may not be an explicit attack on the 1st Amendment, because we would be voluntarily limiting ourselves, the effect is the same and would bring us to a very dangerous moment in our history.

It is not too soon to become aware of this new insidious assault on our freedom of speech.

I am particularly aware of the problem as I write this blog because despite being 87 years old, who knows? And, believe it or not, I have occasionally found myself reining in some of my thoughts and ideas.

That is not a healthy sign ­- at least to some of you?

Fort Sumter All Over Again?

My last blog got an almost unanimous response. “You may be right that we need to directly select the President, BUT be realistic – it cannot happen in this century.”

That’s what many people in the South said in 1860. And we all know our bloodiest war quickly followed.

Today it is not North vs. South; it is instead, as the NY Times shows so clearly, basically Urban vs. Rural. That makes pretty clear that a future conflict could not be geographic but be waged over access to money, technology, communications, etc. The military would be used primarily to tamp down hot spots.

Imagine a world where a large percentage of those Red precincts cannot get TV or WIFI, with necessities in short supply and very expensive. Or, if you prefer the reverse, imagine one where residents of populous states are forced to send massive amounts of tax dollars to rural ones because one-third of the population controls 68% of the U.S. Senate.

Whatever the precise contours, this encounter will not be friendly and it is hard to say precisely how it will play out in real time. That said while it may not start tomorrow, I think it is unlikely to last very long.

As you have read before in this blog, my aim has been to figure out how to stress what we ALL have in common rather than to be more divisive.

It is not clear yet to me whether we are on the very brink of such a modern conflict. But, if we stay on the current path, it cannot be very far off.

I am reminded of a great old story.

A new farmer was advised to get a mule to work his farm. He took the advice but could not get the mule to budge. He asked his neighbor how to deal with the mule. The advice was to speak normally and nicely in simple words. He tried that to no avail. He asked his neighbor again. The neighbor asked if he had a two-by-four. The new farmer said: “What do I need that for?” The answer was simple: “You got to get its attention.”

That is more or less where we are today. Evidently, it is still sweet-talk to the mule time.

Perhaps we should lace our sweet talk with some two-by-fours from time to time to send a signal of what might happen if they do not budge.

We cannot wait too long because the present deck is already stacked against us in the Judiciary, and Congress (specifically the Senate), will inexorably become less friendly over time as rural states grow in influence and power.

The time is now to address this unhappy reality! Our first two-by-four is, of course, this November’s elections. Let’s hope, for our country’s sake, that the results of that election are a solid “thwack” against the status quo.

We Are Looking At The Wrong Issue!

We have been focused on the wrong questions.

Yes, the problems surrounding Trump’s behavior and possible collusion with Russia are troubling and dangerous and may have affected the election outcome. However, as time passes, the facts pile up making it look more and more like we have been chasing our own Constitutional tail.

As a country in 2016, the majority of our population was sharply clear in voting for President; at the same time our system revealed a dangerous and colossal mistake in how we elected our President in 2016.

There were tons of evidence then, and we have seen much more since, and it did not take college-educated ‘geniuses’ to see what Trump was doing. He was playing largely to rural America and the tendency of rural voters to think with their guts about immigration, taxes, foreign agreements, American institutions, and a raft of cultural issues. And, relying heavily on guts to think likely produces what guts normally produce on a daily basis.

There was, in fact, more than sufficient evidence that a strong majority of voters (+/- 3,000,000) preferred a person who is not currently our President.

Russian meddling, with or without collusion, where many of our hopes for a quick resolution to the Trump presidency reside, was unable to shift the popular vote away from Clinton.

Mounting evidence, however, suggests that Russian meddling was influential in altering the results of the Electoral College, today a little-understood Constitutional compromise that, however well-intentioned originally, now poses a central threat to the foundational concept of majority rule.

The time has come to abandon this anachronism rooted in racism (incidentally as it appears to be again today) and now distorting the democratic process, with the likelihood of even greater consequences to come.

The Electoral College was ‘invented’ to get the votes of slave-holding states, as well as those with small populations, to ratify the Constitution.

What was not, and could not have been, foreseen at the time was the electoral map of the United States of the 2016 election in which all precincts were colored either red or blue depending on whether a majority voted for the Republican or Democrat. The New York Times recently displayed that amazing map. It appears to be geographically roughly 80% RED vs 20% BLUE.

Despite that, the aggregate precinct popular vote displayed in Red was about 3,000,000 fewer people than Blue.

And, that is today’s biggest problem, which will only get worse with time.

A recent study from the University of Virginia found that, by 2040, half of the country’s population will live in just eight states, and almost 70 percent will live in just sixteen states.  Because Electoral College votes are based on the size of a state’s Congressional delegation, a minority of voters will increasingly have a disproportionately large voice in the outcome of Presidential elections.

Yes, we must try to be as pragmatic today as our fathers had to be around 1800.

We have to accept that smaller communities, including rural America, need to be protected from domination by the fewer, more populous communities. The Founders were able, in their time, to strike the right balance, preserving majority rule and protecting the minority from tyranny.

Geographic and demographic changes in our nation have distorted the effect of the great compromise. What we must do is restore a rational balance between the two.

That struggle in the modern era more properly should be between Congress and the Executive.

As a result, there is a very simple solution: we could amend the Constitution to elect the President by popular vote.

That would leave in place the Congress (with hopefully an improved method for  allocation of the number and distribution of congressional seats) which would – with help from the Senate with 2 seats regardless of size or population – enable the smaller communities to protect their interests against the other, more populous States and the whole country at large.

The path we are now on is not sustainable.

A persistent thwarting of the majority of Americans at the highest level of our government will inevitably lead to a serious clash or authoritarianism.

We have had a history of a few outstanding ‘odd balls’ in Congress who have made a lot of noise. But, our President is more significant and powerful than the aggregate of all 535 members of both Houses of Congress and therefore we have to be very careful that person properly carries the real mantle of MAJORITY.

The Electoral College emerged from America’s original sin—slavery—and our democracy remains forever stained until we move past that morally compromised system to one that trusts the public at large to make its own majority decision about who our President should be.

This seemingly small, but critical, suggestion may not be fully sufficient to deal with all Constitutional problems sure to arise over the next 200 years. It would help protect us from outside influence which would be much defanged because the audience is so large. And, it should buy the country enough time to get there, and to fix a number of other flaws in our Constitution along the way.