Honey Moon?

Funny Moon!

Recently I overheard a middle-aged man say to a woman who appeared to be his partner that he wished their life today could be more like their honeymoon. His partner quickly replied: “Some honeymoon, honey –more like a funny moon!”

Would that life should be a perpetual honeymoon for people of all ages! Housebound for a year now, we have all kinds of time for honeymoon shenanigans; unfortunately, threats to democracy and human health have robbed many of inspiration and desire.

It would appear that whoever planned these cycles of the human condition was not paying enough attention to the details.

If the struggles of democracy and pandemics had been dealt with separately at different times and in different ways, perhaps everyone might have learned more and better.  Instead, we’ve been confronted for much of the past year by both crises. When they get stirred together like a martini, though, they threaten our very existence, because we are not recreating, advancing, or retaliating against enemies. Instead, we’re consumed by anxiety – for loved ones, for ourselves, for our country.

It is helpful –as long as we are talking about moons –to remember that the ‘new’ moon phase is followed by inspiring partial moons, each advancing inexorably toward the full moon.

As we are waiting to hear from our cousins from somewhere in our galaxy, we need to remind ourselves that we are not in this alone and that we need to keep on expanding our population!

Honey, move over – you’ve got all the covers!

Our Rhythm of Democracy

Is Not New

For a relatively young country, we’ve had at least our share of strife.

In the late 1700s we had a lot of conflict first with the British and then ourselves. In the early 1800s we had a shaky period under President Andrew Jackson that led to a genuine civil war between North and South.

We then had a rough stretch with the industrial revolution and robber barons. The first world war took an unfathomable toll, and the relative peace and prosperity that followed quickly gave way to the Great Depression. Which after a decade of suffering ushered in World War II.

Since then, we’ve been riven by internal conflicts, interspersed by overseas battles (Vietnam, terrorism) that one side or the other suspected of being more about domestic politics than war and peace.

Aren’t you beginning to sense a rhythm of sorts?

Our democratic system and society was never planned — or even expected — to be either smooth or static. The Framers gave the world a nation in which its people would determine its fate. It always was going to be a roller coaster – the push of ideals against the pull of tradition, the emboldened against the entrenched — mixing excitement and opportunity with change, fear and joy.

If we did not experience periods of craziness like today, we would likely not appreciate and enjoy the smoother periods in the normal rhythms of democracy.

This is NOT an excuse for Trumpism in any of its forms. They are miserable, and justifiably condemned. But those moments inevitably come with the democracy we treasure and, measured against previous divisive moments in our young history, I suspect they will dissipate pretty quickly, if only into the woodwork to lie in wait for another day and another despot.

If we look at our democracy this way, we are less likely to ‘give up’ and move to Canada.

And, we are more likely to be looking for the next swing of the process that inevitably will restore our confidence in our fantastic democracy!

If we can beat the tendency to despair!

Now What?

Who can we kick around?

For what?

For fun!

You gotta be kidding?!

If the former president were not such a crazy idiot, the last four years might have been even more intolerable – and ruinous. At least he gave us an easy target for ridicule, and although it gathered us into two warring camps, it has become an inspiration—of sorts.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to kick Hillary around some more? She certainly deserved it for delivering a nightmare onto our nation.

But that did not happen.

Now, we have a decent, smart, experienced and worthy man at the helm. He will not be easy to complain about, even if we wanted to.

But we do need a target for complaints because we have become used to getting stuff off our chests.

Perhaps we should turn against Bernie Sanders, so that Joe Biden won’t have to.

Bernie is a dyed in the wool panderer who could make Biden’s job tougher by pushing his supporters on the left to complain about merely left-of-center proposals.

On the other hand, if we start kicking Bernie around he’ll get tangled up protecting himself from middle of the road Democrats. That might enable Biden to get his program through a narrowly controlled Congress more swiftly and easily.

Yup, that is THE answer. Bernie is the guy to kick around!

Some of you may think this idea isn’t funny.

And you may be right.

But, you should also know that this convoluted thinking is how many good (and bad) ideas arise.

We have to be careful in life NOT to take ourselves too seriously.

When we want to get somewhere, the route frequently is through places we don’t want to be.

So, we have to be very careful not to confuse ourselves and our friends.

Sorry, Bernie: you are a waypoint to nowhere!

What is Cryptocracy?

Hypocrisy Squared!

Hypocrisy is rampant today.

Hypocrisy basically is pretense, when a person says they are for something but actually oppose it (or vice versa).

Hypocrisy squared occurs when a person is opposed to and for the same thing at the same time.

For example: Trump accused Biden of stealing the election (which Biden won by 8,000,000 votes) and sought, without any evidence at all, to use and abuse his Presidential power to reverse that election. Of course, Trump is the person who, in fact, was trying to steal the election – by accusing his opponent of doing so. He was vociferously, impeachably opposed to Biden stealing the election, and simultaneously, if secretly, all in on stealing it for himself.  Hypocrisy squared.

The insurrection at the Capitol was fueled by a CRYPTOCRACY.

Courtesy of Wikipedia, CRYPTOCRACY is “a family of conspiracy theories based on the notion that real and actual political power resides not with publicly elected representatives but with private individuals who are exercising power behind the scenes, beyond the scrutiny of democratic institutions.”

The recent Senate trial revealed, but let slide by, the hypocrisy that enabled the cryptocracy that was happening right under their noses.

It is too late to start over.

But CRYPTOCRACY is what the framers were most concerned about in creating the impeachment mechanisms in the first place. That 43 Republican Senators failed to see it or chose to ignore it for their own political and personal sakes SHOULD BE a crime, but isn’t.

That leaves our criminal justice system as our last, best hope of forestalling a sequel. Both federal and state laws have been broken. Those crimes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent and with the maximum punishment.

War

Does Not Exist Any More

When I read headlines that various countries are NOT going to war, I wonder what they are talking about. Countries that seriously consider war rarely advertise the fact; it is to neither their tactical nor strategic advantage to tip their hand.

That makes recent headlines that China is considering war with US (yes, the U.S.!) even more perplexing?

Certainly there’s at least a bit of saber-rattling involved. People think that by airing their errant thoughts they can unsettle the other guys, and perhaps gain advantage in some arena, without all the dangers and costs associated with taking military actions.

That is an interesting but dangerous path to follow. It is like a feint; you can see by the reaction what might follow. But, it might lead to a counter feint, which likely leads both sides into unintended territory.

So why ever talk out loud about war, which is more likely to get you into trouble than not?

Instead, why not talk about mutual COMPETING interests and see whether there are positive benefits to be found for both sides by pursuing them rather than going to war which always ends badly for all concerned.

When we think about these questions this way today, more often than not, we can avoid ill-considered conflicts and slowly march forward, making progress all around.

I suspect that now you are nodding your head (if you have come this far) and asking yourself –OF COURSE, where is he headed?

I am headed to home base.

A wise man – Lincoln –said a long time ago that ‘united we stand, divided we fall’. Boy was he ever right.

At the core of what he meant was the simple truth that what we have in common is much more important than that on which we disagree.

Therefore, instead of talking about fighting, let’s talk about the peace and prosperity we all desire. While we may have some differences about HOW to get there, we can productively find that, by simply having the conversation, we are making our lives better, happier, and lovelier!

Heard Immunity?

It’s hard to get, too.

I suspect that fewer than 1/10 people can tell you what HERD immunity is, though virtually everyone has HEARD about it.

And, probably fewer than 1/100 can tell you how it works.

No wonder it is so hard to achieve! Perhaps we should start out by using language that people can understand and remember.

Viruses are nasty little buggers that get into humans by various means. They exist only to grow, which means finding more human hosts.

It also happens that when humans get infected and after most of them recover, they cannot get infected again – at least for a while – and thus cannot retransmit the virus to others.

Statisticians discovered 100 years ago that when a high enough share of a population had become immune, whether by previous infection or vaccination, the buggers run out of new homes and begin to die out from the lack of hosts.

They coined the phrase “HERD immunity” to describe this phenomenon because when a large enough share of the herd (of animals) had become immune the ‘game’ was over.

This really has nothing to do with ears.

It does, however, have everything to do with tongues. And one formerly-presidential tongue, in particular, needs to get frozen to a lamppost at the South Pole so that it can no longer be HEARD.

Too Many Shotguns

And too many people…

A circle of hunters around one bird on a Scottish moor can be a dangerous situation. BEWARE.

That metaphor was in fact a real scene some years back and I recall it all too frequently in various contexts.

Recently, I was one of several people involved in a well-balanced transaction concerning a non-profit organization. The transaction was not particularly complicated, BUT as is often the case when several people are involved, suddenly it almost blew up.

The simple transaction, which was a clear “win/win” from all external perspectives, became disrupted.

The culprit: too many voices whispering to each other, all presumably eager to help the deal advance from their point of view.

Like a game of “telephone,” messages got skewed, and, as a result, misunderstandings flared. The ensuing chaos threatened to derail the whole thing.

That was when the shotgun metaphor became apparent to me again. Most of the guns (or, in this case, mouths) were disarmed, and things straightened out VERY quickly.

It is too bad that we all almost shot ourselves in the foot. If we had, the bird would have flown on.

What I learned was ALWAYS KEEP YOUR EYES on the bird.

Nothing else matters.

Also, never shoot your fellow hunters — that does not help anyone except the bird!

How Does It Taste?

Is it Healthy?

If it tastes good and isn’t bad for you, why not?

That’s what we are seeing today in our financial markets.

It may not be real; it may not make sense; but relax and enjoy it.

Still, keep your head screwed on tight and do not lose your grasp on reality.

If you begin to believe in the reality of something —GameStop’s long-term prospects, for example – that is when you begin to get into dangerous territory, where you either stay too long or get in too deep.

Those are broad general thoughts.

They are applicable to today’s financial markets AND to today’s political world.

In normal times financial markets peak when the future speaks loudly and clearly that all ahead is going smoothly and well. Today most people are very uncertain about what lies ahead and what the economic world will look like when and IF COVID is licked. 

In normal times when a crazy impeachable President is being tried for attempting to overthrow a clean election, people naturally wonder what is happening to the foundations of Democracy.

But these are NOT normal times!

Today for some, so far inexplicable reasons, the moorings of reasoning are dragging their anchors out of the mud and are beginning to cut loose at random with all of the facts and beliefs colliding in heretofore unseen ways.

How and when we rediscover the settled ways of a normal world is the UNKNOWN.

It will happen.

When it does things surely will fall back in line.

What that means about financial markets, political discourse and human reality until that day comes is hard to foresee.

In the meanwhile, do not get too excited or enamored of things that taste good but may be poisonous – to your health, your finances, or your country!

Too Much and Not Enough

The Impeachment Conundrum

Having come under armed attack spurred on by the lies of a psychopath, Pelosi and other House members moved quickly to declare said psychopath was a danger to the nation by impeaching him. Again.

Agreed!

Congress has a single option to directly address an imminent danger in the White House — Impeachment. Weirdly, it is up to the Vice President to initiate an attempt to remove HIS President under the 25th Amendment (talk about conflicts of interest!), and it is widely agreed that the Justice Department cannot indict a sitting President.

Now the psychopath is out of office, and the weeks since the deadly assault he promoted have given Republicans an opportunity to – wait for it – CLOSE RANKS behind a man who told the insurrectionist crowd chanting “Hang Mike Pence” that he loves them.

As a result, conviction in the Senate on the single Article of Impeachment adopted by the House seems highly unlikely. The other BIG reason for convicting a President (already headed for the door) would be to prevent him from ever holding federal office again.

Most grating of all, failure to convict would inevitably be portrayed by the already-ex President as “total exoneration” to millions of Americans.

One might ask, “why give him the chance?”

Good question.

First and foremost, impeachment was DESERVED. If inciting an armed mob to storm the seat of government isn’t enough to justify impeachment, what might be?

And, in the wake of the insurrection, it seemed possible, if not probable, that the Senate might convict.

So, this second impeachment almost inevitably will end the way the first did: with a failure to convict.

Congress will undoubtedly then have to consider censure motions – which is nothing more than a punishment-free slap on the wrist embossed with the seal of the House or Senate, suitable for framing but NOT for putting an ex-president in his rightfully disgraced place in history.

While such a scolding will pose no actual risk to its target (reputational risk being already largely assured), Congressional Republicans will be forced to go on record one way or the other. It’s one thing to hide behind a phony constitutional argument about impeaching a president no longer in office; it’s another entirely to say that President’s behavior does not merit even a TOOTHLESS rebuke!

 Still, impeachment is the Constitution’s only way for Congress to get rid of a bad President.  

Now we’ve gotten rid of a severely scarred ex-President who is unlikely to again seek federal office, whether because of his age or because he’s learned that he really doesn’t handle rejection well.

Which is all we really wanted from the beginning.

Therefore, although it may seem namby-pamby, the best solution now is to forsake the formality of a Senate trial whose outcome is pre-determined and move directly to censure.

Next case?

Bridging the Divide

Repairing a Nation Torn Asunder.

Regular readers know that I’ve long been troubled by the political divide in our country. We’ve sorted ourselves into two Americas that do not hear, understand, or empathize with each other. And the last four years have only made it worse.

I’ve spent (some say wasted) a lot of time thinking about the causes of this divide. I’ve alternately blamed Hillary Clinton, right-wing media, social media, and, of course, the great orange instigator (name to be forgotten) who formerly occupied the highest office in the land.

It is, to be sure, the fault of all those things, egged on by politicians seeking partisan advantage amid the resulting conflict.

The question now confronting us, though, is more urgent: what to do about it?

Two weeks ago, I hinted at one idea, embodied in a riddle. What, I asked, is the significance of this sentence?

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Although the original piece mistyped “jumps” as “jumped,” the answer was clear to anyone who has ever taken a touch-typing class, and familiar to many who hadn’t. For those who don’t recognize it, the sentence stands out for using all 26 letters of the alphabet in a grammatically correct manner.

The point was that the sentence encapsulates the answer: those 26 letters form the basis of our communication, and real communication is the only way to rebuild the bonds that once united us as a nation.

Not long after, I asked readers to consider both the causes of the divide and ways to overcome it. I was, in short, bowled over by the thoughtful, insightful responses I received. An overseas friend noted that, in many ways, the U.S. Civil War never ended, and our unfinished business has stained the body politic ever since. Several were hopeful that the saner among the legions devoted to the lying man would come to realize that he never actually shared their hopes and fears (except, perhaps, about black people) – that it was always about the man, not the movement.

A former U.S. Senator outlined six types of Trump supporters, arguing that each requires a unique approach and that several of the groups are simply beyond reach or redemption. The list bears itemizing:

  • Party loyalists motivated by policy (the “Establishment” to some, “RINOs” to others);
  • Evangelicals whose recognition of leftist contempt for their religious beliefs made a deal with the devil seem like the lesser evil;
  • “Left-Behinds” – the blue-collar workers and rural residents left out of the tech revolution and global trade who concluded that Democrats favor Wall Street over Main Street (and have since the giant bailouts of giant corporations in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse;
  • Racists. ‘nuff said;
  • “Pox on both their houses” types who believe all politicians and institutions are universally and hopelessly corrupt; and
  • “Anti-Elitists” (really a subset found in each of the other five groups) who recoil at “cancel culture” and “trigger warnings”, and at a new President who emphasizes college over blue-collar jobs.

My friend’s take is that the “left-behinds” and those who disdain all politicians can be brought back into the mainstream fold with sound trade and economic policies, coupled with serious democratic reforms. A hopeful thought.

Several readers call out the media. One urged an update to the Fairness Doctrine, which once ensured that broadcast networks (including Fox) gave both sides equal time and imposed other requirements designed to preserve an independent media. She also noted that politics has shifted from a policy framework to one centered on identities – who we are, as individuals, rather than how we feel about taxes, welfare or even abortion. Another, bemoaning the lies repeated on right-wing media of all sorts, noted that Hitler was elected to office on a platform that could be fairly characterized as “Make Germany Great Again.” They urged efforts to increase media literacy, regulate social media, and adopt a new federalism to push power down from the central authority (the federal government) to state and local governments and non-profits.

Lastly a couple of people suggested efforts to promote “intergroup” contacts – reaching out beyond our closed-circle feedback loop to make real connections to people we seemingly have nothing in common with.

That idea has also been on my mind for a while, and something I’ve written about before. Unbeknownst to readers, I had embarked on just such an effort shortly before the piece went to press.

Eager to test my theory that we have more that ties us together than separates us, I sent a personal email message to people across the country. The full text appears as a postscript to this piece. In essence, the letter notes that I am troubled that we’ve allowed our differences to define us and determined to reach out to old friends and total strangers simply to wish them well in hopes of helping to bridge the divide.

Working with a reputable data firm, my letter was sent to nearly 50,000 strangers, all likely to be supporters of the man suddenly without a Twitter account. I invited people to write back (using a Gmail address I set up for this project to keep trolls from finding me), and promptly placed wagers with a couple of friends on how big the response would be.

One week after the letter was sent, I’ve yet to receive a single response – not even an “eff you” from a Proud Boy fascist.

It’s hard to know what to make of that TOTAL lack of response. Roughly 10% of recipients opened the message (5,000). Some, perhaps, had the same qualms I did about random contacts on the Internet – we’ve all been conditioned by experience and by the people who manage our email networks to be suspicious of messages from people we don’t know, and to NEVER click a link in such a message.

It’s also possible that my letter was simply too gentle. Facebook’s algorithms notoriously prefer controversial, provocative content precisely because it is most likely to increase user engagement – with Facebook making money off the result.   

I’ve asked the vendor who coordinated my experiment to come up with a different approach that might be tested. I haven’t given up hope that such “intergroup” contacts offer a way to reverse (if not eliminate) the separateness driving modern politics, but I allow that a pre-existing relationship may be a necessary component to undertaking such work.

After four long years, answers remain elusive, and democracy itself remains at risk. Perhaps the departure of the most-impeached-man-ever will offer respite, a cooling off period of sorts that might allow us to recalibrate – to seek each other out and, free of incendiary rhetoric, rediscover the bonds that draw us together instead of the lies that drive us apart.

Time will tell. Until then, I’ll keep trying.  

* * * * * *

A Letter to Strangers

January 14, 2021

Subject: Worried About Democracy? Me, too.

Hello,

Believe it or not this letter is simply an effort to introduce myself and wish you well. I have nothing to sell or ask of you. I hope you are someone who agrees our democracy is worth thinking – and talking – about.

I am deeply troubled that, as a nation, we have allowed our differences to become so important that they push us into conflict, which is not the way to solve problems.

So, I decided to reach across the country to say hello to old friends and total strangers, to wish them well and hope that we can simply agree that we are all lucky to be Americans.

As our country has grown increasingly divided, I have been scratching my head about how to reverse that process. It is my hope that messages like this can help other people see that despite the political labels and conflicts that drive “clicks” and “views” on social media, we still share basic common goals and values — faith, family and freedom among them – even if we disagree on other things.

Conflict may be good for TV ratings, and extremism may be good for politicians interested in getting reelected, but neither is good for the country or for us as individuals.

So, it is up to ordinary people like us (I hope) to extend our hands and minds to others to help reunite us as a whole country for the next 200 years.

If you have a moment and care to email me in return, perhaps we can together become partners in restoring some unity to the country.

In the meanwhile, and whether you choose to respond or not, please accept my best wishes for the new year.

Yes, I have political views. For now, they do not matter, as I am just writing to say “Hi!”

I am 90 years old and actively planning my 100th birthday in 2031!

Wanna come?

Sincerely,

Frank W.