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.

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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.

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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?

When the computer is the ‘driver’

We’re familiar with the recent US declarations that “corporations are people too”. It now turns out that some cars are “people” as well.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has agreed with Google that Google’s self-driving car has “no need for a human driver”. In its place,

“NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants.”

This should hurry us along the path to answering the questions that come from this.

  • Who gets the ticket when the self-driving car runs a stop sign or changes lanes without signaling?
  • Who gets sued when the self-driving car stops unexpectedly and causes an accident?
  • Will the self-driving car be “licensed”? By whom — by each state, as licenses are now issued? by the federal government, creating the first national driver’s license in the US? by Google, using an international driver’s license?

There are many, many more questions to be answered here before these computers become “people”. I wonder if anyone is asking.

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The Pledge of Allegiance (a short refresher)

History is such a good teacher, but only if you actually pay attention to it. Consider this history of the Pledge of Allegiance.
1892, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and [to] the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.”
1923, in response to rising immigration into the US: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.”
1924, just so there no confusion about which “United States” we mean: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.”
1942, on the 50th anniversary of the pledge: Congress adopted the pledge as part of the national flag code
1943: an exception for Jehovah’s Witnesses, because their religion prohibits worshipping a graven image
1954, at the urging of the Catholic Knights of Columbus, Congress acts to add “under God” to the pledge: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands—one Nation, under God, indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.”
2004, in response to a lawsuit by an atheist parent on behalf of his school-age child, the Supreme Court declares the reference to God to be constitutionally permissible.
So the country was 178 years old, had fought (and won) against a British invasion, a civil war, and two world wars, had expanded to become the world’s superpower and was in the midst of the greatest economic expansion ever before it became “one nation under God”.
Personally, I’d be pretty happy if we were “one Nation indivisible” — but that may be too much to ask. We may have to settle for “one Nation, under God”.


The Perfect Presidential Debate

SCENE: A large living room, furnished with sofas, chairs, ottomans, side tables and coffee tables. To one side, a beverage service outfitted with coffee, tea, soft drinks, juice and ice, as well as bottled beer, liquor, mixes and wines, and appropriate glasses and cups. On the side and coffee tables, various snack foods — pretzels, popcorn, crackers, cheese, vegetables, cold cuts of meat, and dipping sauces, with utensils, napkins and small plates. Ash trays should be set on the tables.

LIGHTS UP evenly across all parts of the scene

ENTER all participating candidates, each fitted with a personal microphone and earpiece. All mikes are “hot”; audio from each microphone is fed to all candidates simultaneously through the earpiece. Everything anyone says can be heard by everyone else simultaneously.

A SINGLE STATIONARY CAMERA shows a high angle view of the whole room. The angle must be such that no candidate can step out of frame at any time. The camera shot remains open and steady throughout the program.

There is no live audience. There are no moderators or journalists. There are no advisors or consultants. There is no visible crew on site, because all audio and video is fixed and stationary. There are no television monitors. The candidates cannot see themselves “on-screen” and do not get live feedback to anything they say or do.

For 120 minutes, without interruption, the candidates interact with one another as a group while the audio and video are broadcast live. There are no predefined topics or questions. The candidates must determine, individually and as a group, during the 120 minute program, how to conduct themselves, what to talk about, who to address. They must decide whether to eat or drink anything, and if so, what and when and how. They must decide whether to smoke or not, and whether to ask others to stop smoking. They must survive 120 minutes with no interruptions, no restroom breaks. They must decide whether to stand or sit or pace, and where, and whether to face the single camera or to face the person they are talking or listening to. They must decide how to dress, whether to leave their coat on or take it off, and if they take it off, where to put it.

After 120 minutes, all cameras and microphones abruptly turn off. The program is over. There are no opening statements or closing statements.

The purpose of this exercise is to see how each candidate is able to assert leadership, take charge, set the agenda, drive the discussion, manage the time, interact with others.

Being President means that you must be able to do this — to be a leader in a room full of “the best and the brightest” minds, typically people whom you, as President, chose to give you great advice and information. As President, you must know how to listen to them as well as how to balance what they say against what else you know. As President, you must assess what everyone says, and then you must drive the conversation toward the decision you know you must make and find a way to persuade everyone else to agree.

Q & A sessions don’t do this. Sound bites don’t do this. Sharp attacks and sniping don’t do this. Smug reporters and pundits don’t do this. Clever analysts don’t do this.

But putting everyone in a room together with a blank sheet of paper will reveal everything we need to know about them.