Sunday, November 27, 2016

LET'S BE INTENTIONAL WITH THE WORDS WE USE

I've been thinking a lot lately about the words we use, and abuse. I think it is important to use words carefully, and not fall into a trap of using words that are popular, but not helpful. I think some words are overused, and used incorrectly, which diminishes their value, meaning and impact.

To illustrate this, I'll start with two very commonly used words in our political discourse: racism and Nazi (hoo-boy, just jump right into the fire!).

Racist (racism) - I personally think this term is very much overused and often used incorrectly. By labeling large groups of people and even individuals as "racists," we diminish the true meaning of the term. Example: "people who voted for Trump are racists," or "racism was behind the actions of the Republicans in Congress." It's too easy, and leads to lazy thinking. Paint everything as racism and eventually there is nothing but racism.

We need to think about and understand the distinctions between racism and bigotry, including unintentional bigotry. Here is a short post on the topic; it's a quick and interesting read.

And here are a couple of sociological definitions of racism: "By this sociological definition, racism is about much more than race-based prejudice--it exists when race is used to create an imbalance in power and social status." (1) and, "Policies and practices favorable to a dominant group and unfavorable to another group that are systematically embedded in the form of norms in the existing structure of society."(2)

I've selected the above definitions because they talk about systemic racism, rather than individual actions. Certainly, there are many common definitions of racism that focus on the individual; however, I prefer to look at the more scientific (sociological) meanings.

The term bigotry can be defined as: "Extreme intolerance of another person’s beliefs and opinions particularly racial or religious."(3) Again, this is a sociological definition of the term. A common definition (bigot) is: "a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc., a bigoted person; especially a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)" (4).

So, what's the big deal? Well, I think it is critically important for everyone to understand that there is systemic racism in our society, and also that individuals in our society, most of us in fact, are bigoted, intentionally or unintentionally, when it comes to ideas, philosophies and people not like our own. By using more specific terms, we help ourselves and others understand the sociological and political distinctions, and our discussions are more focused. It is one thing to see blatant bigotry by individuals; it is another to understand how to see racism that is often hidden in plain view within our institutions.

Nazi - What is a Nazi? Standard definitions: "a member of a German political party that controlled Germany from 1933 to 1945 under Adolf Hitler," and, "an evil person who wants to use power to control and harm other people especially because of their race, religion, etc." (5). I prefer the firsts definition, rather than the second, for common usage.

I'll start this by asking you to read this short piece by Mike Godwin, the originator of Godwin's Law: “As an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1.” (6) In the piece, Godwin discusses the uses of the terms Nazi, Hitler and holocaust in on-line discussions, and specifically regarding Trump.

Once again I argue that using the term Nazi when discussing Trump and Trumpism is not productive, and is actually counterproductive (with the possible exception of asking the question: "Is Trump a Nazi?"). The term is overused, and once again is, in my opinion, a lazy shortcut that doesn't help move a discussion forward. I do agree that there is great value in having the discussion about the conditions in America and American politics in the early 21st century, compared to those in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. There are certainly similarities, but there are also very distinct and important differences. To simply label Trump a Nazi is not productive.

I prefer to use the terms fascist and fascism. Hitler was a fascist, and many other national leaders have been or are fascists. These are more scientific (there I go again!) and lead to a discussion of political trends and positions and philosophies. Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst, has a good column on this topic. He discusses the criteria of fascism, and concludes that Donald Trump is a proto-fascist, rather than a full-blown fascist; I agree with this conclusion. In my view Trump is not a Nazi; he does not belong to a Nazi party. I have posted to this blog about the trend towards fascism in America since the administration of George W. Bush, and Donald Trump is the current embodiment, and the most serious and dangerous person with fascist tendencies to be elected to be President of the United States.

Conclusion - So dear reader, think and talk about this one. Let's be careful with words. Let's be intentional with words so that we are very clear what we mean, and we can move discussion forward. It is easy, too easy, to simply use labels as a conclusion. It is much more difficult, and also much more important to get beyond labels and look at what's behind the curtain.
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Notes and sources:

(1) http://sociology.about.com/od/R_Index/fl/Racism.htm
(2) http://sociologydictionary.org/?s=Racism
(3) http://sociologydictionary.org/?s=Bigotry
(4) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bigot
(5) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Nazi
(6) https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/12/14/sure-call-trump-a-nazi-just-make-sure-you-know-what-youre-talking-about/?utm_term=.63910f56b6dc

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

WHY PORTLAND'S RESISTANCE IS OFF-TRACK

An organization calling itself Portland's Resistance has been leading protests in the streets of Portland since the election of Donald Trump as POTUS-Elect. The group is an outgrowth of the group Don't Shoot Portland combined with other political activists, which had it's origins in the Black Lives Matter movement. In my opinion, Portland's Resistance is off-track, and is doing more political harm than good.

This is a very important moment in modern U. S. History, in which we are poised to have a man in the office of President who will rebuild government in what history will certainly see as a negative direction. Many people will be harmed by the Trump administration, and U.S. democracy could be set back decades. This is a time that calls out for people to be united around basic principles of democracy, and to be organized at the community level to push back against egregious policies and directives that will certainly issue from the office of the President and the Republican-dominated Congress.

Portland's Resistance, originally conceived, I think, as a response to the Trump election, has instead gone to battle with the City of Portland. They have organized demonstrations that they have, in some ways, and to their credit, tried to keep peaceful. Some of these almost daily demonstrations have attracted known anarchists and provocateurs who are intent on vandalism and disruption. However, the organizers also seem to think that closing streets, bridges and freeways is an effective strategy. The resulting "peaceful" protests encourage people to disobey laws and police orders, and has resulted in more than 100 arrests. These disruptions of traffic are more than an "inconvenience" to Portlanders, as the organization and it's sympathizers claim. These actions are disruptions that have negative effects on people's lives, and do not garner support from those whose lives are disrupted. (And before you challenge me on this, dear readers, by disruptions I'm talking about people who are kept from getting to work on time, being on-time to pick up their children, getting to critical jobs at hospitals and nursing homes, and etc.)

How does closing down a street, bridge or freeway have any effect on the ascendency of the Trump administration? How do these actions bring our community together? Why are these actions positive in any way?

And now Portland's Resistance has shifted it's focus and declared the Mayor, the Police Bureau and even the City Council as the enemy!

The fascists are loving this. The actions of Portland's Resistance and similar groups are the wedges that keep progressive people apart, instead of uniting us. As an example, the Portland mayor announced a city-sponsored gathering of peace for today that was widely announced and supported by many groups and organizations in our city. It was announced at a huge community gathering of Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people a couple of nights ago, and hundreds, if not thousands of people pledged to attend. This morning, however, the Mayor pulled the plug on the peace gathering because Portland's Resistance called for a counter-demonstration against the gathering, on the basis of their claim of police brutality and lies from the Office of the Mayor in regards to the Portland's Resistance unruly demonstrations (three of the group's leaders were arrested yesterday during a demonstration).

I have posted previously about the trend of disrupting public meetings and gatherings in Portland. We are on the cusp of losing opportunities for police reform and other positive changes as a direct result of the disruptions to civic discourse by small bands of disrupters and provocateurs. This is not only disheartening, it is a clear sign that, unless we can figure out how to come together as a community around larger issues, we are doomed to suffer whatever the Trumpsters dish out.

I admire the political convictions of the Portland's Resistance leaders, and I applaud all people who see the need and take positive political action in this strange time. But goals and strategies need to be clearly developed in order to unite rather than fragment the majority of people in this country. We lost this election to extremists for a variety of reasons. A major reason is our fragmentation, our single-issue focus, our quickness to jump on political bandwagons without careful scrutiny.

Folks, we're in for a storm of political backwardness in this country. We need to switch into a build mode, not a destroy mode, and do it quickly.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

POST-ELECTION GATHERING NOVEMBER 12, 1PM

POST-ELECTION GATHERING
NOVEMBER 12, 2016
1PM for an hour or so.      Laurelhurst Park (see map)

Friends and family: many of us are reeling from the election results this week. I have a need to gather with like-minded people simply to talk. So I am inviting everyone to meet tomorrow for a short time just to touch in.

Facebook doesn't do it for me. I need to shake your hand, give you a hug, talk to you face-to-face, and meet people I don't know yet. What I have in mind is simple and not structured: no speeches, no rants, no signs, no marching, no disrupting of traffic - instead, people-to-people conversations. What are we feeling? How can we support each other and all of our neighbors? What are we each thinking in terms of how to move forward, what political actions to take? What organizations are we already aligned with that are doing good work? How do we communicate and build progressive community? 

I have no specific expectations for this gathering, I just want to talk to people. 

If you feel the same need, or have an interest in this, please stop by; I will be there.

It might rain a bit, so I will bring some umbrellas. I will also bring a few folding chairs for those of us who can't stand for long. Please bring the same if you want. 

Thanks, and I hope to see you there. Maybe we can start a trend that is real, not virtual. 

Tip: street parking on or south of Oak Street is the easiest access into the park.

POTUS-ELECT TRUMP: THE BLAME GAME

Who is to blame for the election of Donald J. Trump to be President of the United States? The answers posted on the internet are legion, but I have my own opinion, of course.

Of the eligible voters in America, just under 100 million (100,000,000) DID NOT VOTE. I settled on this website for data, but there are others that might have somewhat different numbers. It is interesting to look at the data table at that link. Here is a quick summary:

Total number of Voter Eligible Population (VEP) in USA = 231,556,622
Total ballots counted (estimated)                                        = 131,741,500
Number of VEP that did not vote                                       = 99,815,122
Percent of VEP that voted                                                   = 56.9%

The state with the highest VEP turnout:  Minnesota 74%
The state with the lowest VEP turnout: Hawaii 34%

My state of Oregon: 64%
Your state? ___%

Democracy only works as well as the voter turnout.  As of this morning, the popular vote count was:

Clinton: 60,467,245
Trump:  60,071,650
Difference between the two:  395,595 votes

(Note: don't try to add and compare numbers from different sources; they don't add up. Instead, look at the general trend or magnitude, that's the real story.)

And then there's this:

http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php

CONCLUSION: The Finger of Blame (Digit of Disgrace?) can be pointed in many, many directions. I don't agree that the blame lies with voters who checked the box for a third-party candidate, or wrote-in their own candidate (like Harumbe). No, I tend to look at the number of voters who voted for Donald Trump. As Nate Silver pointed out, if 1 of every 100 Trump voters (1%) had instead voted for Clinton, she would now be the President-elect.

(Also, the number of votes does not determine the winner, it is the Electoral College votes, so it is difficult to translate a raw number of votes into actual electoral votes. In other words, if every write-in vote instead went to Clinton, that doesn't necessarily mean she would have won the election.)

But I also have to point the finger at eligible voters who don't vote. There are certainly people who want to vote but cannot because of personal situations, or because they are intentionally kept from the polls by local politicians; however, that cannot be the case for 100 million eligible voters. And we seriously need election reform in this country. In Oregon, we vote by mail, and I wonder if this is why we have a higher than average turnout. 

Interesting stuff to ponder as we try to deal with the Trump New Order. 

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United States56.9%131,741,500231,556,622

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

DEAR TRUMP SUPPORTERS: WE NEED TO TALK

November 9, 2016. It is a new day in America and in the world. Donald J. Trump has been resoundingly elected as the next President of the United States of America. 

Many Americans are elated because their outsider candidate actually won. And many Americans are in shock, trying to figure out what happened and how to handle this. 

Every contest has winners and losers. We always say that each side should be gracious to the other, should reach out and pull together. Even President-elect Trump read this in his victory speech last night. And so here goes.

Dear Trump supporters: congratulations on your victory. You have been fighting against the political establishment, the insiders, the political left, political correctness, godlessness and a host of other things, and you won. I have so many questions to ask you now that you are on top.

I am the first to admit that I live in a comfortable bubble here in Portland, Oregon. I don’t know who you are, dear Trump supporters. I think I have one, and only one Facebook friend who I assume is one of you. And so yes, my circle of friends and family is predominately people who think like I do. This is a very big problem.

The age of digital social media reinforces the bubbles of isolation. My digital crowd is made up of people like me; your digital crowd is made up of people like you. In some ways, probably too many ways, the digital age has isolated us more than united us. I go to web sites for information that I know are very different from the ones you go to for your information. How can this be a good thing?

I really do want to know and understand you. What I’ve seen in the media - the media I look at - is hate and anger at Trump rallies. I’ve seen people chanting things like “Lock her up!” “Jew-S-A” and other hateful things. I’ve seen people handled roughly or even beaten up because they have questioned or protested Trump. I’ve heard our President-elect use the most hateful speech towards Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, women, Jews, people with disabilities - basically anyone who isn’t white and Christian. Is this who you are? 

Seriously. Does the paragraph above describe you? I need to know the answer to this question. Are you really so filled with hate that you support a man who spews such things? Or have you turned the other way in the face of this vitriol and simply supported Mr. Trump because you wanted someone different, someone from outside the establishment, someone who will shake things up and make America great again? I need to know who you really are if I am to seek common ground with you.

I am on the losing side this time. I very clearly remember feeling shocked and dismayed when the Cheney-Bush team was elected, and then elected a second time. In my humble opinion, that administration changed history in serious negative ways, and the world is still adjusting to those changes. But this time is different. This political win was based on ugliness, bigotry, hatred and fear-mongering. This political win was based on incivility the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes. Watch the Presidential debates; is this the model for civil discourse? 

So tell me the truth; what will this country be, starting in January? Do you support deporting 11 million people? Do you support jailing women who have an abortion? Do you support keeping all Muslims out of this country, and monitoring all Muslim-Americans? Do you support isolationism and tearing up all trade agreements? Do you support torture? Do you support bombing the hell out of ISIS, no matter the collateral damage? Do you support the problems in our inner cities by putting more heavily-armed police on the streets? I need to know these things. I need to know how to talk with you. I need to know if we have anything in common. And I truly hope we do. 

I don’t want to blame anyone for this election result. I understand that we are a country divided in many ways, and this time my side of the divide lost. If you read this blog, you know that I have a certain level of stoicism that helps me deal with evolving history. And so today I understand that Donald Trump will be the next POTUS. I understand that people on my side of the divide need to pull together and weather the next 4 years or more. And I need to understand history.

The Trump ascension didn’t happen overnight. It has been building for a long time. It started with Ronald Reagan becoming President. It built through the years since. We’ve seen an administration invade and occupy another country, Iraq, with no provocation, and get away with it. We’ve seen that same administration use torture, and find legal justification for it. We’ve seen the rise of the Tea Party whose only goal seems to be to deconstruct government. We’ve seen a Republican-led Congress promise to not let President Obama get anything done, and even close down the government to carry out that partisan plan. We’ve seen leading Republicans dance on a thin wire of credibility in order to support Trump while not supporting the concept of Trump. Here in Oregon, we’ve seen a gang of white, Christian, armed people take over a federal wildlife refuge and be acquitted by an all-white jury. We see young black men gunned down in the streets by police officers, seemingly for the crime of walking or driving while black. We have seen increasing attacks on minorities and women. 

What astounds is that, even in the face of the above, we have also seen very progressive things happen. Same-sex marriage is legal in the United States. A broad spectrum of politicians have found common ground on the need to reform the justice system to remove the inherent bigotry that has resulted in so much pain in minority communities. We have a health care law that, while not perfect, has righted many of the wrongs that kept so many people from getting the health care they needed. A growing number of states have legalized recreational marijuana which will shift the focus of law enforcement and the legal system to crimes that are actually serious. 

Will all of the above be undone under President Trump? Does a majority of Americans want to unwind history? 

And so dear Trump supporters, you have a lot to talk about, many questions to answer. And I’m serious about this. People like me need to talk with people like you. We need to listen in order to understand. We might not agree on many things - I guarantee we won’t - but I have to believe that there are values we share. History moves forward moment by moment. We can’t stop it; we can’t rewind it. We can only try to understand it and try to influence it. I will do my best to remain hopeful. 


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Monday, November 07, 2016

ELECTION EVE 2016: READ MY OPINION



It is time to take a deep breath, have one or more drinks or, if you live in Oregon, Washington or Colorado, some long drags on the pipe, joint or vaporizer. Relax, the world will not end tomorrow, even if our next President is named Trump. Yes, there will be a dramatic shift in domestic and world politics, but seriously folks, the world will not end until the sun explodes and turns Earth into vapor, not something we need to be concerned about at this moment.

And I’m not being flippant about this; President Trump is a disaster no matter how you look at it. But after the worst disasters, the survivors roll up their sleeves, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. It would not be easy, it would not be pleasant, it would not be without pain, but it will be done.

Of course if you, dear reader, are a Trump supporter, then a Trump win tomorrow will not be a disaster for you and your co-supporters. You will get your historic moment in the sun, and maybe things will go your way, whatever way that is. But your progress would also not be easy, because half of your countrypersons will feel the same resentment you will feel if your guy loses. 

Tomorrow is a brief moment in the history of the day after tomorrow and the infinite number of days after that day. Tomorrow will be a turning point no matter the outcome, a moment in history that future historians will dwell on and analyze and write theses about. Keep in mind that we live history every moment of our lives. Our collective votes tomorrow will determine history, so we are the makers of history. 

There is a very important, actually very critical thing that must be said this evening: we will survive election day; but our best bet, no matter the vote outcome, is to move forward in a civil way, using the tools of our democracy to resolve conflicts. Unfortunately, the Trump campaign has not set the stage for civil discourse. Trump rallies are models of incivility, filled with hate speech, violence against “others,” bigotry targeting anyone who is not white and Christian, attacks on women…the list goes on. We cannot sink to their level. We must uphold democratic values while we try to find common ground, heal old wounds, lift up those who have been beaten down, understand the deep-seated reasons for these expressions of fear and hatred, and most importantly understand that our most perfect union is not so perfect and needs to be fixed. 

I am amazed at the number of people I know who are suffering PTSD - PRE-traumatic Stress Syndrome, as a result of the run-up to the 2016 election. It has become terrifying to contemplate both a Trump victory and a Trump defeat. A storm is coming, and there is no good place to seek shelter from it. Will civil war break out in the event of a Clinton win? Will civil war break out in the event of a Trump win? Is each outcome a lose-lose? Too many of us think so.

If you vote, you are fulfilling the basic responsibility of living in a democratic society. Your vote counts; numbers are important. If you have discussed the election with friends and family, you have gone an extra step. If you have donated to a campaign, another step. If you have worked for a campaign, yet another step. Find comfort in your efforts, understand that you have done your best, know that the outcome will be what it is and we will survive to continue making history day by day. 

Every contest has winners and losers. It is what it is. We do our best, then we move forward. We need to keep that in mind for tomorrow. 

Good luck; see you on the other side of election day. 


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Friday, October 07, 2016

DONALD TRUMP IS THE BEST CANDIDATE TO BEAT DONALD TRUMP

It is no surprise to most people when, every one or two days, Donald J. Trump says something, or something is revealed about him that makes jaws drop world-wide. His vulgarity, crudeness, bullying, name calling, misogyny, rudeness, business practices, tax evasion and lying are astounding, and can't possibly get worse, we think, until it does. 

I have predicted that the snowball of backlash rolling down the political hill would reach a point where it suddenly started to grow so large that impending doom would be certain. I think that point has been reached. Donald J. Trump is going to lose the 2016 election by an historic margin to Donald J. Trump. And the President-elect will be Hilary R. Clinton; thank you Donald.

The Trump campaign will have it's own special place in the history books and the tutorials for political campaigning as the best example of how to beat yourself in an election. Perhaps the Donald's self-destruction is an expression of the probable fact that he never thought, and never really wanted to be President of the United States. After all, he would certainly have to give up running the Trump business empire, take a huge pay cut, have to put his tax returns on public display every year, actually do hard work every day, and behave in a manner uncharacteristic of himself. What a bummer that would be! 

So even though nobody, including Donald, ever imagined Donald Trump would last long in the field of Republican candidates, and certainly not make it to the final few, and never, ever, ever be the actual nominee of the Grand Old Party...well, as Jeb said, stuff happens! `So now what? I think we are witnessing his answer to his own question. 

And by the way, does the J in Donald J. Trump really stand for Jerk?

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Monday, September 26, 2016

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE NUMBER 1: MY TAKE

First, let me say that I don't think of these televised spectacles in terms of winner and loser; the voters will decide that. Here is my very simple take on this first matchup:

1. Mrs. Clinton did what I assume her campaign wanted her to do. She showed her base that she is smart, tough, not easily rattled, very well prepared, and an excellent choice for POTUS. She did not change any minds in the Trump base; however, it is possible that thoughtful, open-minded, undecided voters might give her a closer look.
2. Mr. Trump stayed true to the Trump Way, which is what appeals to his base. He was arrogant, sometimes rude, loose with facts, not well prepared, and slippery. He did not change any minds, with the possible exception of people who were undecided, leaning his way, but also thoughtful and open minded who might question voting for him after seeing this performance.
3. Any candidate running against Trump populism, and who has been in government, has a serious problem that was very clear in this debate. Mr. Trump wants to make America great again. Mrs. Clinton consistently said that government/we need to do better, need to work on this and that, need to improve; this simply validates Mr. Trump's position that things are not good, and need to be fixed, and that the reason things are the way they are is because politicians and political hacks have screwed it up. "You've been in government for almost 30 years and you haven't fix it" was the Trump refrain. 

In fact, there is some truth to the Trump assertions. Mass incarceration didn't just happen by itself, government made it happen, and therefore "we need to fix the justice system (Mrs. Clinton)." Poverty, the recession, gang violence, jobs going overseas, trade imbalances, national debt, and etc. didn't just happen, government made or allowed it to happen. Because he has never been in government, Mr. Trump can point the finger at any and every politician who has, and place the blame for every grievance people have with government. 

If nothing else, the first debate lived up to our expectations - Trump was Trump. 

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