“Fear was a big part of it”


I’m watching the PBS American Experience episode “Ruby Ridge”. Sara Weaver, the daughter of Randy Weaver, is describing how her parents were preparing to move from their Iowa farm to living on a mountain in Idaho. She says they were adhering to the Biblical passages of “an apocalyptic future” and says

“Fear was a big part of it.”

As the episode draws to a close, she adds

“When you operate out of misinformation and fear, things can go wrong.”

These are words worth remembering – not just in the tragic and volatile 1992 “Ruby Ridge” case, but in our society in general today, and in the language that we hear from those who are responsible for guiding us forward as a nation.

Fear is a big part of it.

Listen to what we are being told:

  • Fear those who cross our country’s border from Mexico – they are rapists and murderers and drug lords.
  • Fear those who run from brutality and death in Syria – they are terrorists who hate our freedom.
  • Fear those who report on our government’s actions – they are enemies of the American people.
  • Fear those who teach – they are telling our children what to do, what to say, what to think.
  • Fear those who wear a hoodie on a chilly night – they are armed and looking for a house to rob.
  • Fear those who wear a jihab – they are hiding something, maybe a bomb.
  • Fear those who march in protest – they are paid professional agitators trying to destroy our democracy.
  • Fear those who own large, successful businesses – they are mistreating their workers and hiring illegal immigrants.
  • Fear those who run for office under the (name one) Party – they are only out for (their supporters, their class, their race) and will take away your (rights, guns, money).
  • Fear those who demand your attention – they want to heckle you, mock you, shout at you, shout you down

Sara Weaver is someone who was thrust, unwillingly, into the public eye, under terrible and tragic circumstances. Yet, because of those circumstances, she knows so much more than our leaders do:

“When you operate out of misinformation and fear, things can go wrong.”

Photo: ©AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Reward and Punishment: SCOTUS Nominations

I’m still troubled by the idea of rewarding – and thus encouraging – the behavior of the GOP Senate in 2016 re: the nomination of Merrick Garland.


While two wrongs don’t make a right, rewarding a wrong encourages more of the same. There have to be consequences to misbehavior, especially intentional misbehavior such as the 2016 GOP Senate engaged in.

With that in mind, and for that reason – the Democrats should block all consideration of any SCOTUS nomination for the duration of this current presidency, regardless of the nominee’s qualifications.


Ending the Imperial Presidency

I have a theory — that we are living through the end of the “Imperial Presidency”, with the accompanying restoration of the Congress as the center of power in federal government.


“The Imperial Presidency”. Those who have watched as many presidencies as I have (or more) know that term. It has been around for the entirety of our modern presidency — which I put at all presidents starting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration, in the midst of the Great Depression. It was FDR who swung the presidency like a club, sweeping across the economy and the “general welfare” of a nation in dire straits. FDR wasn’t always attentive to the Constitution along the way, and met resistance from conservatives, the opposition (Republican) party and businesses. But his New Deal reforms are entrenched in government programs to this day — and the presidential power that he exercised before and during World War II set the tone for the Imperial Presidency that continued long after he died.

All presidencies since FDR have tried, with varying degrees of success, to deal with the challenge of the Imperial Presidency. We’ve had other Imperials — JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, W and Obama. All of them were accused — correctly — of expanding the dominance of the White House. In most cases, Congress pushed back hard and SCOTUS blocked the way, but the popular perception, at home and internationally, was that of a dominating, celebrity POTUS.

With 45, it’s different — significantly different. First, he is showing himself, unsurprisingly, to be utterly incompetent and ignorant, and has surrounded himself with friends who are equally ignorant, equally incompetent or just too obsequious to resist him. Add to that the departure, by voluntary or forced resignation, of the knowledge leadership in the executive branches, and the slow pace at which that leadership is being restored. The executive branch is in the hands of idiots – and that is widely accepted to be true, at least for the time being.
Second, importantly, Congress is all Republican. This gives Congress the ability to do whatever they want and to succeed in demanding that their fellow party member in the White House go along with it. They are soon to move SCOTUS into their camp as well (because they can), taking down any final barrier to Congressional “overreach”.
This creates the framework for a very powerful Congress that can lord over a much-weakened presidency. The Republican Congress has been testing its strength against the Obama presidency and, by any measure, succeeded beyond their expectations. And while he was frustrated often, Obama was a president with enormous personal strength of will and intellect. He could wield a law-making scalpel to get some things done because he understands the law, if not the politics of legislating. And he surrounded himself with like-minded people, equally knowledgeable.
By contrast, Obama’s replacement is a dolt both in the law and in legislating (or even in simple management) and his posse does not make up for that weakness.
So the stage is set for a dominating Congress to tower over a much-diminished White House in a way that we haven’t seen in 75 years or more. And that shift may be long-lasting. I expect the “Imperial Presidency” to be a concept shuffled off to history, replaced by a presidency marked by weakness at home and abroad.
One very significant implication of this weakened presidency is the role of “Command-in-Chief.” Can a strong Congress permit the president to exercise the military as his predecessors (W and Obama) could? They passed “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (AUMF) for W, then essentially let it continue for Obama. With a weak president — especially one who is desperate to demonstrate his self-imagined “strength” — the AUMF is a very dangerous weapon. I expect Congress to pull it back and restore its constitutional power “to declare war”.
A second implication of this weakened presidency is how the United States is perceived internationally. If the US — both in Congress and among the people — do not see a powerful president, how will foreign nations relate to the US? Will they invite the president to a state visit and to negotiate treaties if they do not see the president as a true leader? Perhaps the Speaker of the House will rise in importance internationally as the true leader of the United States, in the same way that the Prime Minister is viewed in parliamentary governments. Perhaps the president will become head of state in title only, in the view of our allies and enemy nations alike.
BOTTOM LINE: Presidential elections of the future will mean far less and have far less real impact than the bi-annual Congressional races. Focus.

Image credit: An East View of Gray’s Ferry, near Philadelphia, with the Triumphal Arches, &c. erected for the Reception of General Washington, April 20, 1789 , line engraving (1789) by James Trenchard
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Can You Lie About The Future?

Can you lie about future events? Here’s a comparison of two statements, both cast as “lies”:
OBAMA: “no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan.” (June 15, 2009)
TRUMP: “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down.” (November 21, 2015)
img_1755In my judgement, Obama was wrong but Trump lied.
What makes the difference? The difference is that Obama was making a statement about a FUTURE event.
In June 2009, the health care plan was nowhere close to being decided. The Tea Party rose up a few months after this statement, Congress was battling over small and large changes, and everything was uncertain. So what was Obama talking about? He was talking about what he was trying to put into place — it was a statement about what the future would be IF Congress passed Obama’s plan. They didn’t. For these reasons, PolitiFact rated it “half-true” because it was a statement about the future.
Trump was making a statement about a HISTORICAL event. In November 2015, the WTC buildings had been attacked 14 years earlier. The story about “thousands cheering” had been circulated shortly after the 2001 event, had been investigated by many fact-checkers and been found to be false. PolitiFact gave it a “pants-on-fire” false rating.
Can you lie about the future? I think you can under only one condition — that you can create or obstruct the future that you’re lying about. For example: if you know you will be at the theater at 7:00PM, you would be lying if, at noon, you told a friend “I’ll be home at 7:00PM”. However, if you intend to be home at 7:00PM but get held up in traffic until 7:30PM, you would not have lied to your friend — you would have been wrong.
Likewise, if, the next day, you say “I was home at 7:00PM last night” when, in fact, you were at the theater or you were stuck in traffic — that would be a lie. It’s a statement about what happened in the past, and you knew that what you said was false.
What’s the big deal? Because, once again, 7 years later, I listened to one commentator discuss Trump’s most recent lie (something about “millions of people” being at his inauguration), and another commentator countered “Well, Obama lied — he said you could keep your doctor. Why aren’t you talking about Obama’s lies?”
Yes, it’s correct to say “We’re not talking about Obama, we’re talking about Trump.” But it’s better to say “Being wrong about the future is just being wrong. Being wrong about the past is lying.”

Dear Congressman: Oppose Repeal of PPACA

A letter to Congressman David Trott, Michigan’s 11th Congressional District:

January 15, 2017

I was disappointed that you did not attend the Save Our Health Care rally event at Macomb Community College in Warren today, Sunday, January 15, 2017. Several thousand Michiganders were present, including myself and many others from your District, along with several of your colleagues from the House of Representatives.

It is imperative that you OPPOSE efforts to repeal the PPACA. This should go without saying if there is nothing to replace it. But even if there is a replacement plan, a repeal introduces chaos and uncertainty into the health care marketplace for insurers, providers, patients and payers all. How do we plan? How do we protect ourselves, our families? What can we depend on?

Repeal is what you do with something that is doing more harm than good, or something that is doing no good at all. I’m certain that you know that the PPACA has brought good for millions of Americans since it took effect in 2010, including hundreds of thousands in Michigan and thousands in the 11th District. I don’t just mean those on Medicaid, though there are thousands who’ve benefited from that. I don’t just mean those who qualified for subsidies, though there are thousands who’ve benefited from that. I don’t just mean those with Medicare, though Medicare’s viability has been extended through the PPACA. I don’t just mean those who’ve seen their Plan D coverage improved, though there are thousands of those who’ve enjoyed that benefit.

I also mean those who’ve been encouraged to avoid health problems, because of wellness care and preventive care that is incorporated into PPACA.

I also mean those who’ve finally stepped up to paying a fair share into Medicare, through the added taxes that PPACA applied to those most able to afford them.

I also mean the balance that has been brought into the insurance companies through the Medical Loss Ratio that PPACA mandates — a provision that makes the insurance market more competitive and also makes health care cost more manageable for the patients.

I also mean the health care exchanges which simplified shopping for health insurance for the many millions who entered the market for the first time in their lives.

I know many people — some friends, some strangers looking for help, some as close as my own family — who have benefited from PPACA. For some of them, the benefit is measured not just in dollars — it is measured in better health, in early discovery and treatment of unknown ailments, in longer and better lives.

Beyond all of these direct benefits that PPACA has brought, there are several other reasons for preserving PPACA. These apply specifically to Michigan.

In Michigan,what had once been our “insurer of last resort” — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — no longer exists. Because PPACA was taking effect, the state legislature, guided by Governor Snyder, pushed to convert BCBSM from a state-chartered preferentially-treated insurer bound by “guaranteed issue” obligations into a mutual company subject to free competition in the marketplace. If PPACA is repealed, the “guaranteed issue” provision will go with it — and those who are “uninsurable” because of pre-existing conditions will find themselves abandoned again, as they were before PPACA.

In Michigan, what has been the SCHIPS program — “MIChild”, providing healthcare for low-income children — was effectively replaced, when PPACA brought about the Medicaid expansion. MIChild no longer exists. But if PPACA is repealed, the Medicaid expansion will be repealed as well — leaving Michigan’s most in-need children without access to healthcare.

PPACA is a large, far-reaching and complex program, in much the same way that the health care industry is a large, far-reaching and complex industry. In its first rendition, born as it was out of many political and financial compromises, PPACA is imperfect in several respects. Certainly, PPACA can and should be improved, its defects can and should be repaired, its reach can and should be extended, its cost-control mechanisms can and should be more effective.

But the underlying principle of PPACA is this — that we do not live as individuals in isolation from each other. We live in a unified society, where each of us is dependent in some way on and for others. When we formed this country, we shaped a government using the words “We, the People” — not “I, the Person”. In writing these words, we committed to looking out for each other, to forming a united society in which we all contribute so that we all survive, so that we all can enjoy the fruits of our nation. That principle is expressed in PPACA, where those of greater means, and even those of average means, are called on to contribute so those of the least means are not abandoned when it comes to good health care. To that end, some of us are paying more taxes than we would otherwise have. Some are paying higher premiums. Some are seeing new doctors. Yes, these are sacrifices — but for every person who is paying some small sacrifice, there are others — maybe many others — who are gaining life-saving benefits.

That’s what we are called on to do as Americans. Because being an American means that each of us is committed to the People, not just to ourselves. We are willing to sacrifice in some small way — some dollars, some change — so that We the People, as a People, all benefit.

You should fight against any effort to repeal PPACA. Fight to improve it. Fight to better it. Fight to expand it. But fight hard against repeal. Too many have benefited. Too many would be hurt.

Please vote and campaign vigorously to OPPOSE REPEAL of PPACA.

Thank you.

Words, Not Just Tone, Matter

In the “heated argument” between Kellyanne Conway and Jennifer Palmieri at Harvard last week, the press attention focused on the seemingly angry tones between these two. The audio reflects that tone, both speakers (and others) talking over the others in incomplete sentences, neither side making a coherent argument. What should have been an instructive and reflective examination of the past presidential campaign devolved into a shouted barrage of “Oh yeah?”, “Did not!” and “Did too!”

But for all the shouting and hostility, we should not forget the words — yes, there were words spoken and statements made and claims denied, and these should not be ignored. These words matter, because the claims they make matter and the denial of these claims matter.

So — what set off this heated argument?

Palmieri expressed her pride that Clinton stood up against the “white supremacists, white nationalists” who were attaching themselves to Trump’s campaign as a way to get their message out.

“One of my proudest moments with [Hillary Clinton] is her standing up with courage and with clarity in Steve Bannon’s own words and Donald Trump’s own words the platform that they gave to white supremacists, white nationalists. And it is a very, very important moment in our history as a country and I think as his presidency goes forward I am going to be very glad to be part of the campaign that tried to stop this,” Palmieri said.

The claim, then, is that the Trump campaign gave “a platform” to these groups.

The counter-claim is that the Trump campaign had “a decent message for the white working class voters” and that Clinton “doesn’t connect with people, […] they have nothing in common with her [and] you had no economic message.”

The counter-claim is not, as it turns out, a denial. Conway doesn’t say “no, we did not give white supremacists a platform, we kicked them out whenever they latched on to us.” Conway doesn’t quote any statement by Trump or anyone else in the campaign, telling David Duke, the KKK, Breitbart, the Spencers’ or other known white nationalists to go away. Indeed, when those statements did come, they were only after the election was over and Trump had been declared “president-elect.”

So we have a claim, an accusation if you will, which — given the opportunity — the accused does not deny.

Words shouldn’t be lost in the heat of the exchange. Words aren’t as entertaining as a shouting match, true, but they are instructive.

Words — and the absence of words to the contrary — matter.

Trump Transition: You’ve Been Punk’d!

Let’s think about this for a second.
  • First, never forget that Trump’s expertise is marketing – more than anything else, he gets people to think the way he wants them to think.
  • Second, Trump is highly sensitive to any criticism – he does not tolerate having people say negative things about him.
  • Third, Trump never lets any challenge go unanswered and unpunished.
With that in mind, Trump is “interviewing” a lot of people who were really rude to him. The key here is Romney — why would Trump want Romney to be considered for something as high profile as Secretary of State?

Mental Illness, Candidates, Guns

There it is again — this time, “serious people” are talking on TV about the mental health of Donald Trump. Is he unbalanced? Unstable? Psychopathic? How else can you explain his very bizarre behavior?

And — not to be outdone (or, in the now-common “oh yeah? well, so’s your old man!” debating style) — Trump is claiming that Hillary Clinton is unbalanced, unstable, a little crazy.

This, of course, all comes on the heels of a now-standard instant-analysis of any mass shooting event. The perpetrator is mentally ill (or was, since the perp is usually a fatal victim by this time). We should not control guns — we need to keep them out of the hands of the mentally ill. We need more mental health programs.

Of course, these psychological and psychiatric diagnoses are sputtered out in the public by people who (a) have no idea what the symptoms of mental illness look like, (b) have never examined the person they are talking about (or, in most case, examined anyone), (c) probably don’t realize that there are one or two people who are struggling with mental illness in their own circles.

Still, “serious people” are using this term — “mentally ill” — to excuse, or to blame, or to predict, all kinds of behavior that they just don’t agree with or don’t understand or didn’t expect.

This article in Huffington Post asks the obvious question: Does Donald Trump have to be mentally ill to say and do bad things? Does anyone?

More importantly, what message does it send about people who are fighting with mental illnesses? We all know people who are struggling, and sometimes there are psychological or psychiatric elements to that struggle. Do headlines about “crazy” candidates or “crazy” killers push these people deeper into themselves and into the shadows?

Drawing a correlation between Trump’s behavior and mental illness alienates the majority of people with a mental health disorder. It implies that their diagnosis is clearly a character flaw and even encourages others to assume that mental illness is dangerous.

“Broad generalizations about a specific group of people, like those with mental illness, are so troubling because they can lead to that group being harshly pre-judged and discriminated against,” Gregory Dalack, chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, previously told HuffPost.

People with mental health disorders live normal and productive lives, and their illness is not a scapegoat for awful behavior in the public eye.

I agree with the article’s conclusion: Sometimes — maybe most of the time — someone is just a bully, just a racist, just a pig, just a jackass, or just pissed off.


Are There Any Angry Young Men?

Someone committed an attack in Nice, France, killing 84 people. His name is not Bob or James or Steve — his name is Mohamed. He was born in Tunisia but has lived in France for 11 of his 31 years, under a residency permit. He was, until recently, a delivery driver in Nice, where he lived. He is separated from his wife/partner and has been recently charged with violent behavior. According to those who know him, he is “not a Muslim”, “not religious”. He is not on any French intelligence list or “watch list”.

In general, he is assumed to be connected to or inspired by terrorist groups.

No one is considering that he might be another angry young man, depressed at being separated from his family, perhaps drunk or under some other chemical influence, who just went off the rails on this festive national holiday.

Because he is Tunisian, because his name is Mohamed, the presumption is terrorism. There is no longer room for other motives or triggers.

We have had angry young men acting badly before the world was full of terrorists. There were angry young men at Columbine High School in 1999, in Oklahoma City in 1995, in Newtown in 2012, in Aurora also in 2012.

There were so many shootings in workplaces that it became slang – going postal. More than 40 people killed in 20 shootings between 1986 and 1997.

Maybe Mohamed, the Tunisian, was just pissed off. Or depressed. Or drunk.

Or maybe this is terrorism.

Maybe we should ask why our first and last assumption is terrorism.

Follow The Leader

In our party-driven political system, there are two ways for a party and its “leader” (i.e., presidential nominee) to work together — the people can follow the leader, or the leader can follow the people.

In the 2016 presidential election, the two major parties are following opposite models.

Clearly, the Republican party — both its elected “leaders”, like Speaker Ryan, and its voting members — are lining up behind the nominee, Trump. In this follow-the-leader model, they overlook any faults or failings he may show and happily ‘endorse’ his analysis of problems, his prescriptions for the future and his attitude toward others.

Less clearly, the Democratic party is working the opposite model. The influence of candidate Sanders, Senator Warren, and especially the party’s voting members made its way into both the party platform and the positions of the party’s nominee, Clinton. In this follow-the-people model, Clinton’s positions have moved from the center-right to at least a center-left position, adopting (or “co-opting”?) positions that Sanders held when this campaign started.

The question for voters — for you — is this: which model are you more comfortable with?

Are you comfortable with the follow-the-leader model? This means that you watch the leader to see what he says or does, and let that tell you what to think and say and do. Are you a follower?

Or would you be more comfortable with a follow-the-people model? This means that you make your own assessment of what direction we should go in and the president pushes the government to make it happen. Are you a leader?

Thus far, of the two major party nominees, one side is following the leader and the other is following the people. That should make the choice simpler in November, shouldn’t it?