Poll (this one is from Jed, the other creator of WeTheCenter)

TALK TO ME

I have been making a serious mistake, and because of that mistake I am announcing a new direction for this site.

This morning I got up and turned on the radio.  The stations to which I typically listen had been consumed with Trump this and that and Kavanaugh this and that.  But that was all over, and I wanted to hear about the issues of the day, about the coming storms in Florida and the international warnings about global warming and about the coming elections and all.

What I heard instead was the rehashing of Trump and Kavanaugh.  Trump’s a crook, blah, blah, blah.  Kavanaugh’s a liar, blah, blah, blah.  Then it dawned on me that the radio stations to which I, as a liberal, am routinely tuned were just saying what they thought I wanted to hear.  And the same was likely true for the stations to which conservatives were tuned.  These stations weren’t doing the news.  They were selling a product.

Then a second thing dawned on me.  I was doing the same thing.  With the exception of one dear conservative friend of mine, my audience is generally liberal, and I have been telling them what they want to hear.  I have been honest, and I hope I have been insightful, but I have also been selling a product.  That is precisely what has gone wrong with political speech for the past several years.  We haven’t been talking with each other.  We haven’t been reasoning together.  We haven’t been talking with each other.  We’ve been caricaturing and ridiculing.

Democracy is not in danger because of Trump.  It is in danger because of us.  Democracy, government by, of and for the people, only works when the people participate.  How?  Well, by voting, for one.  In that regard, it is relevant to my point that in the United States, particularly in mid-term elections, the turnout can be as low as thirty percent of the people.  For another, though, we participate by talking things out.  That is what we do, or should do, with our families and friends and neighbors.  And that is precisely where the news stations are failing me, and it is where I am failing you.

So.  We need to talk, and from now on this space is the place where we can talk.  You will find below a button for comment.  Press it.  Comment.  One rule only the rule on which this site was founded:  reasoned discourse only.  No yelling, no ridiculing.  Let’s talk.  Let’s invite others to differ, and let’s listen to what they have to say, and let’s think about it and talk some more.

I’ll start, on a very tough topic.  Abortion.  Is the implanted ovum a human?  Of course it is.  Can we kill humans?  Yes, we do it all the time.  We kill millions by allowing smoking and drinking and pollution and untested chemicals and many more.  So the real question in abortion is:  who should decide whether an abortion should be done?  A judge?  A legislator?  A religious figure?  Or the woman carrying that human?  The Supreme Court says that, at least until that human is able to live on its own, the decision should be the mother’s.

What do you think?  Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOX GETS A JUSTICE

Recovering alcoholics often talk about “hitting bottom.”  By that they generally mean reaching that point where you finally surrender to your powerlessness over alcohol, where you are finally willing to do whatever it takes to escape its clutch on you.

I have wondered for some time when and how we would “hit the bottom” of our descent into the political pit down which we have been going for the past decade and more.  During that time, we have traded reasoned discourse for the rhetoric of ridicule and caricature.  We have traded calm and measured interchange for shouting and labeling.  We have treated political issues, not as key elements of our commitment to the American ideal, but rather as selling a brand.  We have, in sum, succumbed to the addiction of self-absorption and of enmity toward those who would oppose us.

The Kavanaugh affair provides some hope that we have finally reached our bottom, and that we will, on reflection, be brought, through that affair, to recognize how profoundly our addiction to the politics of enmity has damaged our commitment to the American ideals and the American way of government.

Brett Kavanaugh presents the purest example possible of the installing of a governmental figure purely to attain political goals.  He is certainly not the most intelligent candidate available.  After all, what intelligent person would deliver the snarling tirade that he did?  Clever, maybe.  Intelligent?  Not so much.  He has made it clear that he is going to the Supreme Court to carry out the wishes of those who nominated him.  He has repeatedly lied to Congress.  When attacked for it, he followed White House orders and showed up on Fox News, that television station noted most for its blind commitment to right wing causes, and he claimed, ironically, that he was actually seeking “fairness.”  He will vote to repeal Roe v. Wade.  He will vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  He will vote to limit the rights of victims of sexual assault.  He will vote in approval of deregulation and the slashing of benefits for the needy.  He will stand in lifelong opposition to the consideration of the rights of others than those who have put him on the Court.  He will, in sum, be anything but the considerate and fair-thinking jurist that we so desperately need on the highest court in the land, the last bastion of reason in a politically tilted America.

Our salvation will come in waking up to what we have done here.  We have finally driven our politics of opposition all the way to America’s court of last resort, the one place where reason has a chance to triumph over partisanship.  I think, I hope, that the thinking and caring people of the United States will wake up and realize that the politics of opposition is the doorway to the death of the American way of government.  As I have said before, we are great, and we have always been great, not in our economics or our military might but in the profound meaningfulness of our ideals.  We are great, and we have always been great, because our country is founded on, and exists for, the inalienable rights of all human beings.  We were far from that ideal at our inception, but we have crept, in fits and starts, toward its realization.  We conquered slavery. We rejected genocide.   We recognized the rights of women.  We gave aid to the unfortunate and the oppressed and the downtrodden.  We have taken many steps backward, but always we made net gains toward the fulfillment of those ideals.

Bret Kavanaugh stands as a personification of what happens to us when we stop working toward the American ideal.  I think we will realize that.  I think we will, in that realization, find a way to return to the pursuit of the ideal of the inalienable rights of others.  I think we will surrender, that we will do whatever it takes to get back to being real Americans.

So long as he remains on the Court, Bret Kavanaugh will remind us how easy it is to abandon our ideals, and how lethal it is to do so.  We are just too good a people not to see that.  We will not just survive this.  We will rise from it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUR HOPE IS BROWN

Okay, this morning I’m going a bit radical.  I was thinking this morning about the arguments often made for segregated schools.  Most prominent among them was that integrating schools would lead to “miscegenation.”  My Webster Dictionary tells me that the word means “mixture of races.”  It strikes me as odd to have a separate word for children merely because their parents have a different skin color.  We don’t have a separate word for different-colored apples (“miscepomation”?) or different colored dogs (“miscecanation”?).  Why such a big deal with people?

I am not naïve about race discrimination.  When I was a boy, I asked my father what he thought about me marrying an African-American woman.  He thought about it a while and then said, “Your children would have problems.”  That was a long time ago, but it’s likely still true to some extent.  It is still a very difficult thing to be black in America, probably at all social and financial levels.

It’s just that, when you think about it, it is so stupid.  White folks spend billions of dollars a year going to resorts and spas to darken their skin (okay, get a tan.  Duh.).  It’s a color, folks.  It’s not even that.  It’s a shade of a color.  We all have little cells that produce color (they’re called melanocytes, which proves that I do serious research for these blogs).  Some folks just have more of them than others.  That’s it.  Difference over.  What do we do with our prejudice now?  Chant “Nah nah nu nah nah!  You have too many melanocytes!”?

Silly as that is, it doesn’t make racial prejudice go away, which means that the problem is not with being black but rather with being white.  We are prejudiced (and I mean we; me too) because of the history we have been given.  Our parents, our books, our social history, have all given us a somewhat subliminal message that we are given some kind of superior status because we are white.  My parents actually lectured us kids against racial prejudice.  But my teachers were white, my political leaders were white, my business leaders were white, and all of my friends and neighbors were white.  All of that sent a quiet, wordless message:  if you’re white, you’re right.

What that quiet wordless message did was to encourage the persistence, in one form or another, of the cancer that has existed in the American way of life since the writing of the Constitution.  It has caused division, strife, injustice, and most of all it has caused us all to live with the lie that we are committed, as Americans, to the inalienable rights of all human beings.  If there is one person in this country that suffers from bigotry, we all do.  If one of us is not free, then none of us are.

We have, of course, made a fair amount of progress.  Our schools are by and large integrated.  Our financial world is more or less open to all races. Our housing is, to some extent, free of red-lining.  But you need only ask any person of color whether her or his color affects her or his life, and you will be told that prejudice is still a huge problem in America.

So, how, if ever, will that problem be solved?  By absorption.  By “miscegenation.”  By all of us sharing the same color.  In other words, don’t expect much from your generation.  Our hope lies in the fact that our children will marry without regard for color and will have children who will do the same, and, by and by, color will be a part of us all, and it will be a little odd to be white.

A long time ago, I took my six-year-old brother on a bus.  He had never seen a person of color.  An African-American man was sitting in front of us, and my brother said to me, “Look!  A chocolate man!”  I wonder if some day a similar young boy will say to his brother, “Look! A vanilla man!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS REASONED DISCOURSE?

A remarkable thing happened Friday.  Shortly after Senator Lindsey Graham delivered a totally out of control  (and totally out of character) ranting tirade against the Democrats on the judiciary panel, two senators, one from each party, got together, met, and then communicated with the entire committee, all of whom arrived at an agreement.  In unison.  Without dispute.

It was remarkable, I say, because these differing factions had come to agreement based upon a discussion between two people, one from each faction.  That discussion, I am told, was a reasoned discourse.  Whatever may come of the discourse, the fact that it happened is, in my mind, a huge event, perhaps even, one might hope, the beginning of a return to reasoned discourse from the contentious and devious conduct of both sides that has been characteristic of our political arena for far too long.

This, however, might be a good time to ask the question:  just what is “reasoned discourse”?  Every time I think of reason, the image of Mr. Spock sneaks into my head.  We call his kind of thinking “cold logic”, and there is a reason why we call it “cold”.  Logic, by itself, like all science by itself, lacks an element crucial to human discourse.  It obviously lacks emotion, but that is not the key missing element.  I put it to you that the key missing element is what I will call for the moment moral impetus.  Morality may be loosely defined here as concern for others, and any discourse that lacks that concern is trivial, irrelevant, all but meaningless.  Discourse owes its very existence to our concern for others.  Reasoned discourse then is an exchange of concerns governed by the rules of reason.  What is reason?  Not just pure logic, but in some way a recognition of what is real.  When you get right down to it, reason is the recognition of things as they actually are.  To think that there is a horned monster under your bed is unreasonable because there are no horned monsters.  You may still check under the bed, but the reason for checking has nothing to do with reality.

Reasoned discourse is, then,  a discussion between two people concerned about others which is conducted within the scope of reality.  To put that in English, those who engage in reasoned discourse share their concerns for others, but they “keep it real.”  That is what the judiciary panel did on Friday, and we should all hail it as a giant step for American politics.

What an interesting world it would be if we all committed to reasoned discourse.  No more calling each other idiots.  No more attacking each other’s motives.  No more seeing the world through a perverted set of glasses.  None of this will happen overnight.  It will happen in bits and pieces, and it will only happen if you and I start it.  To start, think about that Friday exchange.  Remarkable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON CREDIBILITY

I am a lawyer.  I have been trying cases for over forty years.  I cannot count the number of witnesses that I have prepared.  I tell each of them that their testimony is far more about credibility than it is about information.  So, I tell the witness, the best thing you can do to preserve your credibility is to give a direct answer to a direct question.  There are, I tell the witness, two things that a witness does that ruins his or her credibility.  The first is to not answer the question but to go on and on in some other direction.  The second, which is, aside from lying is the worst thing a witness can possibly do, is to argue.  Why?  Because it communicate to the listener that the witness doesn’t believe that a straight answer is not enough.  Nothing makes a witness look like a liar more than the witness arguing.

I listened to the testimony of Dr. Ford and of Judge Kavanaugh on the radio.  Later I saw bits of the testimony on television.  With one exception, in my entire experience I have never heard a worse witness than Kavanaugh.  He consistently did both of the things that indicate a lack of credibility.  He never answered a direct question with a direct answer.  Never.  Worse, he didn’t just argue.  He snarled.  He yelled.  He ridiculed.

Here is my single observation.  Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony was so bad that I find myself unable to believe a word he said.  He was evasive beyond virtually every witness I have ever had.  He was argumentative in the extreme.  By the time he got around to a substantive answer, it did not answer the question asked, and it sounded totally rehearsed.  He was, in sum, patently incredible.

I do not know what he did as a high schooler or college student.  No one ever will except those who were there.  What I do know is that we are putting on the Supreme Court a person who is dishonest and a person who has demonstrated himself absolutely incapable of being the impartial jurist that we so desperately need on the court.  The majority will likely succeed in putting him on the court, but in doing so they will risk doing more damage to our tripartite democratic government than anyone, including Trump, has ever done.

Someone once observed that the genius of the founding fathers was to create a system which, in the hands of the competent, is excellent, and in the hands of the incompetent, is adequate.  People like Trump and Kavanaugh are putting that observation to the most severe of tests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE INTERESTS OF JUSTICE

The case of Brett Kavanaugh is not the first time the country has been faced with the question of conduct disqualifying a potential appointee.  Clarence Thomas, of course, but many others.  The hard question is what to do with, for or to Mr. Kavanaugh.  I here offer the thoughts of an old white male.

First, the charge being leveled against Kavanaugh by his first accuser is very serious, so serious that, had he been found guilty of it at the time, he would, just about now, be getting out of prison.  Second, assuming arguendo that he did what he is accused of, the reason he was not charged with the crime, and the reason why his victim did not report the crime, was because, back in the 80’s, every woman in America knew that if she reported the crime she would be the one treated as a defendant.  “Wearing a skirt, were you?  OHHHHHH, A SWIMMING SUIT!  AT A DRINKING PARTY!  WELL DON’T WE KNOW WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR!”

So, third, I would not be surprised if he did it, and I am not surprised that she didn’t report it.  The question, then, is:  should her report have any effect on his appointment to the court?  I have a slightly off-key opinion.  It is not the incident that should drive our response.  It is, rather, Kavanaugh’s reaction that should matter.

Imagine the following.  On hearing of the accusation, Kavanaugh calls a press conference and says, “I have no recollection of the events described by Professor Ford.  I did drink at under-age parties while in high school, and I may have drunk so much that I did this awful thing and I was so drunk that I can’t remember it.  If, therefore, I did it, then this is the first I have heard of it, and I am profoundly sorry for having caused Professor Ford so much grief.  I have lived my entire adulthood trying to respect the rights of others, and I can assure you that I have the deepest respect for the rights of others and particularly the rights of all women to be free from sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and most of all sexual assault of any kind.”

Imagine, I say, that Kavanaugh had said something like this.  I would imagine that all but the extreme would have said that he was appropriately contrite if in fact he did such things, and that he should, therefore, be allowed a vote on his ascension to the Supreme Court.

Here is the problem.  He didn’t say that.  Instead, he said that it never happened.  He categorically denied that he was at the party (a problem since no one can identify exactly what party we’re talking about), that he had never engaged in such conduct, etc.  His handlers, while assuring the public that no such thing ever happened, refuse to allow any kind of investigation into the alleged events.  They refuse even to allow the alleged witness to the events to testify, despite the fact that that witness seems to confirm that it never happened.

So I think Mr. Kavanaugh stands on shaky ground,  shaky largely in part because of his own conduct.  That being so, the obvious solution is for Mr. Kavanaugh to announce that he is withdrawing his name from consideration for the appointment.  Why?  In the interest of justice.  To save this country from yet another tortuous conflict.  To remove from the Supreme Court even the appearance of a shadow on one of its members (like the shadow that has hung over Clarence Thomas for all his time on the court).  To save his family further anguish and embarrassment.  Et cetera, et cetera.

There is, or at least should be, no room on our Supreme Court for politics.  By withdrawing his name, Kavanaugh will at least be making a step toward reducing what odor of politics there is.  As painful as it would no doubt be for him, it is the only decent thing to do.