Author Archives: dplaflamme

It’s Not Too Loud; I’m Too Old

We saw Thor: Ragnorak tonight. Before the movie started, there were previews for, among others, Pacific Rim, Star Wars VIII, Black Panther, Justice League, Jumanji, and probably one or two similar action movies. We saw it on an “Ultra Screen,” with “Dolby Atmos,” sound. I nearly went into an autistic state from over-stimulation. And that’s without getting distracted by Guns’n’Roses’s “Welcome to the Jungle,” for the Jumanji preview or Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” at least twice during Thor.

Ironically, while surfing Netflix’s streaming service this afternoon, I found Michael Clayton. It’s not a movie without special effects; within the first ten minutes, a car blows up. But that’s it. It’s a character-driven movie. You don’t have to know Norse mythology or be able to recognize a half-dozen characters from other Marvel franchises. It was, shudder, an adult movie. Not the type you can’t admit to your mother that you saw, but one that kids wouldn’t appreciate.

There are things in Thor to make kids laugh; I heard laughter from behind us several times during the movie. It was bright and shiny; the men were all heroic and the women, even the heroic ones, were all glamorous.

Mostly, though, I found myself thinking about eventually rewatching the second hour of Michael Clayton. Not as soon as we got home; I need to get ready for this week, including getting some sleep. But some evening this week, I’ll pull out an iPad and open the Netflix app to finish re-watching that movie, a relative quiet movie for adults.

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It’s a Small World After All, Maybe

Donald Trump is all we need. Just ask him!

Multiple reports, including one from NPR, quote him as saying, “Let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be. You’ve seen that, you’ve seen it strongly.” This was in response about whether enough of his appointees were working in the State Department. Assistant Secretary of State? Who needs one? “So, we don’t need all the people that they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson. I tell my people, ‘Where you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.'”

I admit, I’m not completely sure which State Department posts are political appointees and which are career positions, but from what I read about different Departments and Agencies, many of those career employees need some direction about how to do their jobs. Trump may think his past campaign slogans and his 140-character bursts of knowledge are all the guidance they need, but apparently they disagree.

Do we need a few specialists focused on East Asia, places like the Korean peninsula or Japan? Are our actions in Africa guided by deliberate policies or by accidents? When Trump meets new people, including heads of state he hasn’t met with before, is anyone offering advice about what to do or not do, on the off chance that Trump is receptive to advice?

If Trump thinks he knows everything about everything, or at least about everything that matters, he must think the world is a very small place. That may be why his transition team apparently didn’t accept offers of transitional guidance and help from the outgoing staffs and holding-over staffs at so many Departments that he’s subsequently leaving half-staffed compared to past administrations. A man who can’t imagine that there are things to learn won’t get any better at his job than he is now. And if he hasn’t learned after nine months on the job that there are things for him to learn, well, what we see is what we’ll be stuck with until, well, maybe January 20, 2021, maybe some time after the 2018 mid-term elections.

And to think, besides doing all the work of the State Department and several other departments, he still has time to tweet! It really must be a smaller world than I realize.

Or, we’re doomed.

38 Responses

The Washington Post weekend Magazine section has a feature this week:

Fix this democracy — now

38 ideas for repairing our badly broken civic life

There are 38 contributors, from across the spectrums. Some of the ideas I agree with, some I don’t. But I reacted strongly enough to many of them that I decided to write 38 responses.

Require Everyone to Vote

This is one of several entries around the theme of changing how people vote to make voting more meaningful more most people. I generally agree with it.

A New High School Course: Identity 101

Oh, wow. I understand the premise, but it’s a Catch-22: those who agree with the proposal wouldn’t change with the course, and those who oppose it wouldn’t let their kids be changed by it.

One Month Without Social Media

The idea is to get people to interact with others more. On behalf of other introverts, no, thanks. You’re addressing a symptom, and not one I give much weight to.

Befriend a Libertarian

Hell, no. I hate Libertarians. They aren’t some middle ground we can all agree upon; they’re the fringe who are part of the current problem, the current administration’s plan to burn government to the ground through neglect or sabotage. This was one of the more blatantly self-serving proposals.

Tackle Tough Subjects at Dinner

In theory, nice. In practice? How are some parents going to react to tough topics from their children, such as, “I reject your religion,” or, “I’m not straight,” for example? The idea behind this is better summarized by another proposal still to come.

Outlaw Private Education

This proposal suggests that if there were no private education, people would put the gifts they give to private education into public education. That’s beyond naive. In theory, yes, all kids starting school should have access to comparable educations. In practice, some private schools are better at teaching fundamentals, and some are worse. Interesting goal; wrong approach, if you ask me.

Ignore the Cultural Elite

Ignoring the elite is how we got Donald Trump. Question the elite, sure, but ignore?

Mandate Military or Civilian Service

I like the idea of mandating some form of public service, but recent reports about fears within military ranks of white nationalism, including within the military, give me pause. Mandating service would reverse some of the self-selection that skews the military members toward white nationalism, but I’m not sure making more of them serve with their perceived inferiors will negate their learned white nationalism as often as idealists would hope. Maybe the split between civilian and military service would mirror today’s political polarization if we’re not careful somehow.

Allow Garage Unit Rentals

I don’t think the problem with American democracy today is largely caused by housing in some areas being unaffordable, letting the upper middle class become isolated from the working and lower classes. It might be a worthy idea, but it doesn’t help the core topic, in my reading.

Keep Dreaming

I’m sure my political opponents dream; they just dream of different things.

A Women-Led Evangelical Movement

On the one hand, I’d be happy with more female leadership within all religions.

On the other hand, having seen some of the social efforts led by churches, such as using religion to justify discrimination against sexual or racial minorities, I’d prefer more secular leadership than religious leadership of social movements. I hope liberal and progressive religions get more socially active outside their own faiths, but I won’t assume religions are part of the answer.

A Constitutional Amendment on Equality

I’d like to see Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions enforce laws resulting from such an Amendment. We aren’t even enforcing current laws on equality. Attitudes have to come before legislation and enforcement. Prohibition — and, fifty years later, drunk driving — proved that.

Establish National Unity Week

As long as there are political parties and elections to be won, unity will always be threatened by the political benefits (for some) of fomenting division.

Switch to Instant-Runoff Voting

This, I like! This weakens the two-party system and creates room for moderates and third-party candidates. Would Trump have won if every state had used Instant-Runoff Voting? People would have voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson and known that they could still indicate a preference for Hillary over Trump if it came down to that.

It gets trickier for lower level elections. Would people learn enough about local candidates for office to make intelligent decisions about offices? Still, I like this for the same reason I like compulsory voting: it gets people involved and allows for more nuanced voting.

Remind the Government: It is Beholden to Us

Civil servants know to whom they’re beholden. It’s the elected leaders and political appointments, in my experience, that corrupt that.

Rein in the Congressional Budget Office

Someone doesn’t like the CBO. I don’t think the CBO is the cause of the breakdown of American civic involvement.

Teach Critical Thinking

I want to like this idea. I like the idea of critical thinking.

My concern is, everyone at Breitbart News as well as every conspiracy theorist thinks they’re using critical thinking. “Challenge the status quo! Question what they tell you? Do you really think jet fuel can melt skyscraper support beams?” Galileo was once right in the face of opposition from the Establishment, so every climate denier might be right, too! Critical thinking, man!

It may be that critical thinking currently is corrupted by anti-establishment biases. Critical thinking is always vulnerable to unrecognized biases.  I’m not sure how to address that.

Give Every Teen a Black Box

Can you teach intellectual curiosity? If you can, that probably promotes critical thinking and helps inoculate people against biases, but I’m not sure you can on a large scale.

Fund Art Centers

For some personality types, sure; for others, no. I’ll accept this as a minor part of the effort and accept that I won’t like some of the art.

Push for Civil Rights Education

Every moron who’s telling about white genocide knows what civil rights are now defined to be. I see some benefit from teaching today’s youth that the struggle is constant, However, education isn’t the issue when we don’t agree on the fundamental value and worth of all people.

Prevent Left-Wing Media Bias

People don’t trust the mainstream media because they’re being taught not to trust them. Who’s teaching them that? The fringe movements on both the right and the left; the right are just better funded and now have their own shameless large media arms.

Bah, humbug!

Let Government Co-Own New Technologies

I get very skittish around things that reek of socialism. I don’t trust unchecked capitalism, but neither do I endorse the government claiming the benefits of private entrepreneurship.

That said, I agree that government grants should somehow have a payback scheme written into them so that government-funded discoveries bring financial benefits to the government.

Redefine the Flag

This proposal seems to be about reframing arguments to use the buzzwords of the audience you’re trying to win over. I’m sure I missed something here, but I’m not sure what.

Stop Obsessing about White Privilege

This seems to stipulate that we’re not doing what we know and agree we have to do because we’re still arguing about causes and degrees of guilt. I’m not sure this stipulation is valid.

End the Blame Game

As I noted earlier, unity is vulnerable to the political advantages of divisiveness, and blame games fuel that divisiveness. In theory, great. In practice?

Celebrate Government

In theory, great. In practice, ugh. Take streets and roads. “Government built and maintains these roads! Thanks, government!” “Why did government build the roads instead of letting developers build them and HOAs maintain them?” “But then HOAs are just a form of govenrment.” “Which is why I don’t live in an HOA!” “And who pays for the road you live on, and the roads it connects to?” Ad nauseum.

Peer Review for Candidates

Donald Trump wasn’t reviewed and evaluated by his peers? Of course he was; we called it “Primary Season.” Some would argue that Democratic super-delegates peer-reviewed Bernie Sanders and voted for Hillary Clinton. Many Sanders supporters are still livid about that. This is where I prefer “instant runoff” voting instead.

A Marshall Plan for America

The Marshall Plan was for rebuilding a continent devastated by war. Trump’s rhetoric withstanding, we’re not that dysfunctional yet.

Create a System of Voting Credits

I like the proposals to shake up voting. I’m not sure how many people would use their credits wisely, either spending too many too early, or having too many left for an election for which they have no strong feelings. Implementation details will be nasty.

Keep Education Public

Or, as least in this effort, kill school voucher programs. I can get behind that; they seem to be a failed experiment.

Take a Stand, Local Officials

Local officials in the South took lots of stands in the Civil Rights era. I’m not sure that’s what George Takei meant.

Mandate Gun Insurance

While I like this idea, it addresses a symptom of America’s polarization, not the polarization itself.

End American Arrogance

Oh! My! God! The American right just had collective apoplexy. It’s another Catch-22.

A Grass-Roots Revolt Against Fake News

No one likes Fake News. Not Donald Trump, not the “liberal” mainstream media, not Fox News, not anyone!

See also, critical thinking.

Revive Human Decency

Again, this is a symptom of the polarization, not the cause, at least not at a level we can work with.

Bring Back the Cold War Economy

The Cold War economy was justified by a shared fear. It benefited the military-industrial complex — and its owners — more than the workers in the factories and fields. No, thank you.

Persuade Voters to Keep Clicking

See also, critical thinking and alleged media bias.

Cultivate National Gratefulness

They’re proud to be Americans, and they keep singing to say so. That doesn’t seem to have done enough so far.

 

Game Without End?

Donald J. Trump just gave his first address to the United Nations General Assembly today.

I’ve always had a few different theories I can’t decide among about why Donald J. Trump ran for President. The political support for him, I understand: it’s pure, cynical opportunism. He won’t tell any nominal supporter, “No,” so all the crackpots who couldn’t advance their extreme ideas otherwise lined up behind him to push him up while whispering in his ear.

What about Trump himself? What’s in it for him?

One theory is that he craves publicity and fame, no matter how degrading. Money is just a way to keep score; what he wants are recognition and ratings! It doesn’t matter if it’s degrading or humiliating; if it gets great ratings, he’s in.

Another theory is an evil temperament, the kind that would have rental agents note the applications of people of color for his apartments, is now leavened with a layer of dementia, the illness in which people lose context and understanding. Sure, he’ll say wacky, racist things, because that’s part of his core personality, but does he really understand what he’s saying and how it plays in the world? Does he understand that his words matter? If the people around him keep telling him what he wants to hear, because they can also tell him what they want him to hear — and believe — would we know?

One theory I keep trying to disprove is that he never wanted to win the Presidency and kept — keeps — trying to things to sabotage his own campaign and then Presidency, only to find that nothing repulses his supporters and beneficiaries the way he’d expect. It’s as if, when he said he could shoot someone in broad daylight and his support would grow, not drop, he was complaining, not boasting. Sure, running for President was going to be fun, and he’d get some petty revenge for that White House Correspondents’ Dinner when he was so mercilessly mocked, but he wouldn’t have to give up his businesses or live in that tacky place in DC instead of his own tacky home in New York City in a building with his own name on it! Release his tax returns? It’d never get that far. Prove his worth? They’d never look closely enough to see through that facade. His financial shell games? They’d never look in the right places. Govern? As if!

He keeps upping the ante, trying to get someone behind him to say, “Enough! Pence, or Hillary, next, please!” Promise to build a wall? Assure us that Mexico would pay for it? Insult every ally? Insult the politicians with whom he’d have to govern? Lie shamelessly constantly? Make disaster relief appearances all about him? Deny the intelligence community conclusions everyone else accepts? Blurt out top secret intelligence to hostile foreigners? Threaten to incinerate 25 million Koreans in front of the UN?

At this point, I’m surprised he didn’t pull out the maps of his electoral college victory or counties he won, but then again, the UN has no power to override our sovereignty and impeach his sorry ass. While he was doing that, the Koch Brothers were trying once more time to destroy our safety net, so he’s still useful to them for a while longer.

Given his lack of attention to actual policy, I think we can rule out he’s doing this based on his principles. But that still leaves three other theories about why. Additional fame I tend to discount as a theory; he’s poisoning his own brand so much, no sane, rational person would do that. But both dementia and an insincere campaign he lost control of remain plausible.

I hope he finds an end game, or the help he may desperately need, soon. We can’t afford more of his thrashing around.

For Paul Ryan (& Joel Osteen?)

He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Mt 25:33-40

Paul Ryan may wish to remember, Jesus didn’t give any credit to the tax collectors who gave the poor tax breaks and investment credits so they could start their own businesses with capital (that they didn’t have) to develop a business and eventually feed themselves or clothe themselves. He was much more about immediate results.

Remember that time thousands of followers came to a rally but forgot to bring food and drink? He gathered up what food and drink He and his staff had and used it to feed all of those gathered, despite their appalling lack of planning and self-sufficiency.

He cured the sick, of course, without worrying about co-pays and pre-existing conditions. Maybe that was because He was a carpenter, not a doctor. If He had thousands of dollars of student loans, would He have…. No, that probably wouldn’t have made a difference, would it? He didn’t qualify his teachings with such considerations. He was pretty much, “If you can do it, do it to help others.”

He didn’t even go in for that, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats forever,” type of teaching. He gave people fish and wine. He healed them instead of opening a healing school to teach others how to heal as He did. He was very much about immediate results, not about establishing the conditions for long-term economic recovery in Galilee. Despite that short-sightedness, His teachings persisted, and eventually a movement followed; others learned to help and love based on his examples, not because he gave seminars at Jesus University on how to help and love.

Reminder: sometimes I say the obvious, in case it’s not obvious. For Paul Ryan, and possibly for Joel Osteen in flood-ravaged Houston, apparently it’s not obvious.

Living in the Future

Did Star Trek‘s communicators have app stores so McCoy and Sulu could download Words With Klingons? If not, Gene Roddenberry underestimated the future.

When I go to a restaurant, the host assumes I have a personal communicator on which she can beam me a message when my table is ready. She’ll also tell me which app to download so I can track my place in line. 

I can buy movie tickets at my restaurant table and show the ticket taker my communicator two hours later that I have a ticket — but that’s old news. 

Ten years ago, smart phones with web browsers were rare and clunky. Twenty years ago, cell phones were rare and clunky. Thirty years ago, we’d stay up late so our long distance phone calls were cheaper — on land lines! 

Yeah, living in the future!

It’s Our Country; What Do We Want?

I realize this title only applies to 300 million people out of the seven billion people of this world. Among my readership, such as Facebook friends and Twitter followers, the percentage is probably higher. I can live with that. (Wow, what a lousy way to start this essay.)


Two hundred and forty years ago, British colonists in North America declared independence for thirteen colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America. (I’m sure there’s a good, historic reason we didn’t include British colonies in what’s now Canada, but researching that might well delay this essay until the next American national holiday, a cost I’m not willing to pay. But, I digress.) The colonists were united by their anger at King George III and their desire to determine their own course and their own laws, and this anger had been fermenting for more than a decade, in differing levels in different colonies. There are reminders that the writing of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t a quick, conflict-free process, but there was enough common ground to reach consensus on that, and later the Articles of Confederation and eventually the Constitution.

There has always been conflict about our form of government. That it should be a democratic republic hasn’t been too much challenged, but after that, the details get tricky. That there are the Articles of Confederation in between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution speaks to the perennial debate about how strong the Federal government should be. The government allowed by the Articles of Confederation clearly was too weak, but ever since, there has been a tug-of-war about how much power we should allow or grant to the Federal government. That we would be thirteen or more distinct states with their own governments united by one overarching government has never really been questioned; never to my knowledge has the idea of dissolving states in favor of one uniform government ever gained substantial traction, even after the Civil War less than a century after our declaration of independence — and of common cause as well. However, only slowly have we transformed from a nation led by white men to a nation voted upon by men and women of all races and social statuses.

Somehow, these conflicts about the nature of the governments of the United States of America have crystalized sharply over the past decade, even more than they have crystalized over the Civil Rights movement sixty years ago. After a decade of fighting about the premise that we have a collective obligation to make sure everyone can afford health care through health insurance regulations and subsidies, we seem to be fighting about the fundamental purpose of the Federal and even state governments.

Scott Pruitt represents those who would roll back regulations protecting the environment and the health of Americans from the effects of pollution and other abuses of the environment. He, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, would dismantle the protections afforded by the agency since its inception almost fifty years ago, consistent with the goals of the fossil fuels industry and other corporate interests who have funded so much of Pruitt’s political career. Nominally, they might state they wish to let states regulate the environment, but that premise is a fiction covering two truths. First, environmental issues quickly cross state — and national — borders. For example, it was well established twenty years ago that power plant emissions in the Midwest caused acid rain in the Northeast that decimated plant life there. The second truth is, many state governments are already beholden to corporate issues due to deliberate efforts to take over those legislatures with corporate allies through gerrymandering and political contributions. This parallels the history of the effects of race on civil rights: in the South, many states clearly and blatantly discriminated upon racial grounds, while in the rest of the country, any such discrimination was less blatant and had fewer effects upon racial minorities.

Betsy DeVos represents those who would do to public education what Pruitt’s supporters would do to environmental protections. They would replace locally-controlled public schools with government subsidies for private schools, both secular and religious. This in turn would let conservative social forces funnel children into schools that reject progressive ideas such as racial equality, gender equality, and the tolerance of non-conformists and minorities, be they the LGBTQ community, the pro-choice movement, non-Christians, immigrants and refugees in general, or anyone else. This movement, of course, would also roll back Federal regulations requiring schools at all levels that receive Federal funding to follow certain regulations about, yes, gender equality, religious neutrality, and these other same social issues that so motivate some of these forces. Again, they would return power to the states, knowing that they’ve already captured so many states’ education departments and legislatures so they may return their schools to academies of conformity and privilege out of the Forties and Fifties.

Dr. Tom Price leads the Department of Health and Human services, ready to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and its effects as soon as Congress allows him after years of his vocal attempts to repeal the ACA while he himself was in the House of Representatives, and if he can dismantle or neuter Medicaid, too, he’ll take that opportunity. Dr. Ben Carson leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development because of his public skepticism for that department’s programs and purpose. Rick Perry leads the Department of Energy despite his apathy about nuclear energy in this country and his hostility to Energy’s more recent programs to promote alternative energy forms, such as solar and wind. Our Secretary of State, a recent oil company chief executive, oversees a department with almost no leadership of the diplomatic corps due to vacancies among so many appointment positions. Only scandal prevented a corporate CEO with a history of labor law violations at his companies from becoming the Secretary of Labor.

Behind it all, Steve Bannon is the President’s “Chief Strategist,” a minister without portfolio who has in his past made clear in interviews a desire to “destroy the state.”

Forget GIFs of a TV reality show star beating up a wrestling villain, now labeled as a cable TV news network. Forget the history of misogyny of the TV reality show star who is now our elected President.

Ask yourself:

Do you want a government that deliberately forfeits its powers to establish a minimum standard of health and well-being for all residents, that deliberately reverses of decades of inclusiveness and generosity in favor of implementing an attitude of, “I’ve got mine; screw you!” that lets corporations run free without regard for individual citizens from whom governments derive their power?

It’s easy for liberals, progressives, and others with mere shreds of common decency to be outraged by the daily acts and rants of our elected President. It’s shocking when we find people who aren’t outraged, who can find some fig leaf to hide behind while defending him. What we have to remember is, Our President is just an empty figureheadbeing manipulated by those who would reverse the government’s course over the past six decades for their own selfish purposes.

Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and others don’t like Donald J. Trump and wouldn’t have chosen him, but they can use him. They are using him! Steve Bannon is using Donald J. Trump. Tom Price accepted his appointment of Secretary of Health and Human Services not to serve Trump but to implement his his own agenda, shared by those who whispered his name in Trump’s ear.

Is this what you want?

Do you want to roll back six decades of social and environmental progress?

If you want this, own it! Don’t hide behind “states rights” or the alleged faults of the ACA. Own it! Tell us that’s what you want! Tell us that your Christianity (or other religion) lets you reject refugees out of fear of strangers and takes away health care from the poor because you think your Jesus would somehow judge them “undeserving.”

If you don’t want this, Resist! Continue to call your Senators and Representatives. Find and support candidates in gerrymandered House districts and in polarized states. Work to make Trump and all that hides behind him a one-term embarrassment as hard as those same forces worked to oppose all that Obama did and steal a Supreme Court seat from him.

Own it, or resist it! It’s our country; what do you want?