A curious pattern has developed among friends of mine with political views contrary to my own.  The conversation starts with some insulting statement by one of us, which is followed by a countering insulting statement by the other.  Then, when either one of us makes an effort to discuss the matter rationally, we inevitably find far more agreement than disagreement.

Why does this happen?  Why do two rational people have to struggle so much to have a rational discussion of their views?  I think it is for two reasons.  To do it backwards, the reason why we do end up having a rational conversation is because we both have the same ideals.  The American way of governing is based on two self-evident principles:  that all human beings are created equal (there are no inherent class differences among people), and all human beings have certain inalienable rights.  If you don’t hold those two principles, then you are not an American.  So, when I finally do have a rational conversation with my friend, we find that we are both grounded in the same principles, and our discussion is only about the best means of serving those principles.

The second reason, the reason why we struggle in the first place, is that there is a movement in America, and elsewhere, to abandon those principles and commit to what some are calling tribalism.  These folks imagine America as grounded, not in the grand principles of the Declaration of Independence, but in a certain cultural identity.  Which identity?  Well, the identity of the folks who are pushing tribalism.  If you abandon principles, then you have also abandoned rationality and replaced it with self-interest, and that makes rational discussion impossible.

All this brings me to a statement made by the present Attorney General, Jeffrey Sessions.  Mr. Sessions recently announced that “America is not an idea.  It is a nation with borders.”  There is no doubt, of course, that America is a nation with borders.  If, however, it is not also an idea, it is doomed.  If we cannot say that America’s national identity rests on the assertion and protection of inalienable human rights, then we are nothing but a bunch of folks with no commitment to anything but ourselves , and life will soon enough be, as Thomas Hobbes warned, nasty poor, solitary, brutish and short.  We will exist, not because of our ideals, but because of our military force.

Let me here denounce, as loudly as I can, the truly hideous view of Jeffrey Sessions.  We have fought wars and lost untold numbers of fellow Americans, and we have provided care, at great cost and the great personal sacrifice of fellow Americans, precisely over that idea of the inalienable rights of all humans.  We have held the position of first among nations because of our commitment to the inalienable rights of all humans.  Abandon that commitment, and you will, as Jeffrey Sessions, obviously has, abandon what it truly is to be an American.

As a test of what I am saying here, I invite you to seek out someone holding political views substantially different from your own.  Ask that person to discuss with you some difficult political topic like tax reform or immigration or global warming.  Ignore the insults and put your own aside, and seek for that rational discussion.  If you get there, you will recognize your interlocutor, and yourself, as true Americans.











It’s election day in my state.  We are voting for a supreme court justice and for local officials.  It’s a work day, and it’s a rainy day, and it is “just” a local election.  So we’ll be lucky to get forty percent of the population to vote.

A few weeks ago, a bunch of high school kids from Florida got more than a million people to go out and march for their cause.  Not long afterward, a TV commentator asked a panel what effect these young people would have.  The answer:  long term, not much.  They would all go out and march, and then we would go back to the complacency of our private lives.

We, the people, who are the real substance of the United States of America, are suffering the diminishment, and ultimately the loss, of those ideals that define and justify our existence as a nation and a beacon to the world.  We are doing it by dribs and drabs.  Like the old (and apparently untrue) story of how to boil a frog, we are gradually allowing the slow boiling off of the rights that support those defining ideals:  the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right of all people to those things necessary to the promotion of universal life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

How do we stop this slow drift away from our ideals?  By getting off our dead butts and taking real steps to preserve them.  The very first of those steps is to vote.  That means identifying candidates who are genuinely committed to promoting our ideals.  She or he may be a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent.  The party doesn’t matter.  The person does matter.  The dedication of the person to our goals, our real goals, and not her or his own interests — that matters.  And, by the way, maybe you are just the person we need to run for office.  If so, run for office.

There are many other things that we can do.  Write letters.  Speak out.  Visit our legislators.  Organize groups.  Join or create discussion groups.  All of that, however, derives its value from the ultimate act of democracy, the vote.

Vote.  Promote voting.  Encourage voting.  Demand that voting be easier to do.  Demand that government encourage voting.  Remember the frog.  Feel the heat.  Vote.








With the as yet untold number of people around the country and around the world, I marched last weekend.  I made my little sign, and I walked the streets of my little town, and I gave my little speech and listened to the speeches of others.  Then I got in my car and went home.  And if that is all I will have done, I will have wasted a beautiful afternoon, and I will have accomplished nothing more than making myself feel good.

What those strong and brave and bright students of Stoneman Douglas High School and elsewhere have done is enormously important, important far beyond even the seemingly limitless energy they are providing to the effort to rid our schools and our communities of massacres like those at Stoneman Douglas and Sandy Hook and Columbine.  They are demanding that those who occupy public office stop spending all their efforts getting re-elected and concentrate on the job for which we the people put them in office.

We are all painfully aware that it takes money to get elected, and re-elected, to public office.  We all further understand that the longer you stay in office, the more seniority you have and the more power you have and therefore the more ability you have to get things done.  The problem with all that is that our elected officials too soon start serving those who give them the money for elections rather than serving those who voted them in office.

A part of this perversion is on us the voters.  We are the ones who allow ourselves to get talked into voting for someone because of the ads and internet messages that all that money buys.  We allow ourselves to be far too influenced by slickly produced ads and messages, when what we really need is to do more thinking and learning and discussing for ourselves.  The greater part of the blame, however, must go to those elected officials who lose their way and start doing the will of those with the money rather than serving the best interests of those whom they were supposedly elected to represent.

This is the far greater message that these young people are sending us.  This is what they are really forcing us to remember and understand.  Senators and Congresspeople do not represent the NRA, nor do they represent the Kochs or the Adelmans or the moneyed folks who support the so-called liberal politicians.  They represent the people.  The people want their children to be safe.  They also want a lot more than that.  They want peace, not the constant wars that have been consuming us for the last two decades.  They want an honest voting system, not the gerrymandering and voting exclusions that prejudicially favor one factor or another.  They want an honest and productive economy.  They want good, solid educations for their children.  They want a rational system of health care.  They want fair treatment for all, regardless of sex or religion or race.  They want to pass on a habitable world to their children and grandchildren.

These young people got us to march.  Now they, and we, need to get our elected representatives to work for all of us.  If those representatives do not work for all of us, we need, all of us, to vote them out and vote in those who will work for all of us.   Absent those votes, and absent getting off our duffs and working to get everyone to vote, we will have all just wasted a beautiful afternoon.









ey represent.















I heard something on TV the other night that greatly disturbed me.  One of the moderators of a news channel introduced the program by saying, “It’s nine p.m. in the East, 6 p.m. on the west coast.”  This is a pet peeve of mine, the tendency of some people, including the news media, to think of the United States as two coasts, and to consider that which is in between — namely, the vast majority of the United States — as “flyover country.”  Never mind that this “flyover country” is the land where most Americans live, where most of what America produces is made, even that this is where most of those talking heads come from.  No wonder the talking heads were shocked at Trump’s election.  The most they know about the real United States is statistics, and even those are gathered by people who never actually go out and get to know that vast majority of people who make up these United States.

I am one of those people, and I live among those people and it is my job to represent those people.  So, the other day, when a large group of them were waiting to see me, I sat down with them.  Here is what I asked them:  “What do you think about all this Trump stuff?”  I have never, in the many hours of reading and watching the news, heard anyone say what those people taught me.

What they said, basically, was that it wasn’t about Trump.  They didn’t give a damn about Trump.  They didn’t care who he slept with, or where he got his money, or    even whether he pulled some shenanigans to get elected.  Hell, they said, Clinton had oral sex with an intern — in the oval office, for heaven’s sake — and he didn’t get kicked out.  No, they said, it’s not about Trump.  It’s about them and their families and their communities.  Tariffs?  So what?  They had no idea what tariffs might do five or ten years from now.  What they did know was that there were more jobs and higher wages, and that they were able to pay for their homes and for their children’s education.

And the legislators?  Well, the legislators were talking about jobs and saving them a few bucks on their taxes.  “Did you know,” said one of them, “that during the first two years of the Obama administration, all the legislators talked about was whether steroids were being used in baseball?”  They all agreed, and they were all angry about that.  What they felt was that these legislators had no business talking about steroids when their real job was to get jobs for the people and make sure that the country was safe.

So it’s not about Trump.  Of course he’s a crook.  He’s a hustler and a con man and a showboat.  He’s self-absorbed, and he’s a sexual predator.  Aren’t all those Wall Street types like that?  Who cares?  He got elected president, and the question is whether or not he, and government in general, is doing what it is supposed to do — taking care of the interests of the people.  And the talking heads?  They’re wasting their time and missing the point.

Here is a lesson to be learned.  The issues that divide liberals and conservatives are important, but those issues are not the bedrock of American politics, of the job of representing and caring for this vast country, all of this vast country.  Women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, protection of the environment, abortion, opioids, school choice — these are all important issues, and we the people must and will deal with them.  Before we even begin to think about all those things, however, we must have a government that helps us to have the basic necessities — good jobs, decent health care and security.  Do those three things, and then you can work on the rest.  To be a Democrat and to be a liberal are two distinctly different things.  If you want to reach the people, the real people, all the people, you must keep that in mind.











years of the




















Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  Stephen Hawking somehow lived with the lethal disease of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that kills its victim in three years or less, for over fifty years.  The disease gave him reason to use his brilliant mind to contemplate the physical universe and, by that contemplation, to approach the most profound and haunting question:  why does this universe exist?  He is reported to have said that all of his research was actually prelude to that fundamental mystery.

It is no insult to Professor Hawking’s memory to say that this is a question for all of us to face, and that we need not have either an understanding of his work nor the staggering measure of his intellect to address that question.  Interestingly enough, he himself felt that it was critical to be able to explain his research in a way that could be understood by all of us.

To my mind, that very question is what we wake up with every morning.  It lurks behind every effort we make — every widget we help manufacture, every product or service we help to sell, every diaper we change, every dish we wash, every bed we land on at night and make in the morning.  It is also the question that we often take great pains to avoid.

Forget the universe and black holes and entropy.  What am I doing here?  What’s it all about?  Where is my meaning, my value, my significance?  It’s not all about me.  That way lies chaos, madness, war.  Neither is it about believing in some mystery.  Here and now is what we have, and my value is either right here or it doesn’t exist.

That was really the question that Steven Hawking was asking, and the important thing about his work is that this question remains and this question defines us.  So long as it remains, we remain truly human.  Fear not the attacks on our meaning by those hopelessly lost in self-interest.  Fear the day when we all stop asking that question.  So long as the question survives, so long as we continue to ask where our real significance lies, we remain truly human.  Hawking still lives because the question he asked himself all his life still lives.





























Recently a group of people set out, on the Capitol lawn in Washington DC, 7000 pairs of shoes to represent the 7000 children who were killed with guns in America since the Sandy Hook Massacre.  7000 children killed.  Twice the number of people who died in the 9/11 assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  What was done in response?  Nothing.  No tightening of background checks.  No banning of assault rifles.  No funding of security for schools.  Nothing.

Today, around the nation, children walked out of schools everywhere for seventeen minutes, to demand that adults do something to prevent the loss of lives such as the seventeen who died at Douglas High School in Florida.  The Florida legislature passed something of a law, but assault rifles and their multi-bullet cartridges are still available, and the president has gone back on his word to take significant steps to stop this senseless and preventable killing.  Parents everywhere worry, with good reason, whether their children are safe in their schools.  Yet the president, and the federal legislators, do nothing.

Enough is way past enough.  This is not a political issue.  This is an issue of fundamental safety and respect.  This should be as obvious as the nose on your face.  Those who do not act, those who would sacrifice children’s lives to protect political contributions, are being public shamed.  By children.

Someone said recently that the children’s words and actions should be respected because they are not yet “corrupted.”  It is a sad comment on adulthood to define it as having been corrupted.  Perhaps it is the depth of Jesus’ comment that we all need to become like little children.  Whatever it is, we all, of all different political parties and all different interest groups, we all need to stand back and look at ourselves.  We have, for far too long, defined ourselves by getting and spending.  We have worshipped tax cuts, despite the fact that those cuts have driven the country deeply into debt while suffering deep cuts in funding to education, health care and infrastructure.  We need to return to defining ourselves by our obligations to the inalienable rights of all human beings.

Listen to the children.

















It seems as though we spend all our time these days finding remedies for problems that, while gravely serious, nevertheless baffle us both as to their cause and as to their solution.  We suffer mass killings at a rate greater and more devastating than any other place in the world not at war.  We have a health program that is ridiculously more expensive and patently less effective than any other developed nation.  We have an economy that is outrageously successful for the wealthiest few and yet only muddles through for the rest.  We are one of the world’s wealthiest nations, and yet our public school system is beleaguered, our infrastructure cries out everywhere for repair, our government is thoroughly debt-ridden and there are still outrageous levels of poverty and prejudice across the country.

The steps taken to solve these problems, both liberal and conservative, have done little or nothing, and in many instances seem even to have made things worse.  We are, for perhaps the first time in this nation’s history, handing over to our children a world substantially worse than the one into which we were born.  It is they who will have to pay that debt, repair that infrastructure, improve that school system, salvage that climate, lessen or eliminate that poverty and prejudice.

Why?  What have we done to our nation?  There are temporizing answers.  We have fought wars in which we should never have become involved.  We have followed economic programs for political rather than sound economic reasons.  We have sought temporary solutions rather than seeing things on a long-term basis.

I suggest, however, that there is something deeper going on here, something that seems to resonate with all of our most serious problems.  We have let our culture drift.

This nation was born with the very highest of ideals, that of equal birth and the inalienable rights of all human beings.  Granted it did so while allowing, and actively carrying out, programs directly and openly violating those ideals.  The authors of our founding ideals were also slave holders, and those who followed them engaged in genocide and permitted economic programs based on such hideous practices as child labor and indentured servitude.  Nevertheless, the ideals remained, and the history of the country includes a gradual movement to see those ideals realized.  The elimination of state-supported slavery, the prohibitions of child labor, the recognition of the rights of women, the national programs to provide basic income and health care — all of these things were driven by a national recognition of the ideals of the dignity of every human being and the obligation of every human to her or his fellow human.

I suggest that the root cause of each of our most substantial current problems is the drift of our culture away from those founding ideals.  It is not the economy.  It is not jobs.  It is not the traditional family structure.  It is not religion, at least not the kind of doctrinal religion being sold by the TV evangelists.  It is, rather, a creeping worldview of egocentrism that is bringing us down.  We have, gradually, been more and more willing to surrender our ideals for a mess of pottage.  We would accept bigotry for a minor tax break.  We would let our schools founder, our infrastructure deteriorate, our environment worsen — all for a few dollars here and there.

Where, then, is our hope?  It lies where it always has, in our youth.  Some talking head recently grounded his faith in our youth in the fact, as he said it, that they are “not yet corrupted.”  What a sad description of maturing in America.  Is that what adulthood means, being “corrupted”?  By our conduct as a nation, by the conduct of our elected representatives, it would seem so.  Here is the thing, though.  As “corrupted” as we may be, it is still a fact that those ideals actually define what it is to be a human being.  We still define our real heroes by their commitment to those ideals — Jesus and Gandhi and King and Parks and on and on.  Greed and the many other forms of self-interest may pull us away from those ideals, but we will always know, deep down, that we are only truly human when we are directed toward those ideals.

So it is not the economy, stupid.  It is not your taxes either, stupid, or your wealth or your cars or clothing or house or social position.  It is a culture defined by a striving toward the ideals of equal birth and inalienable rights that defines us as Americans, and our hope lies in the fact that that striving is an ultimately irrepressible desire of all of us. This country will rise or fall in direct relation to its cultural commitment to those ideals.































problems, both liberal and conservative,


Political name-calling is as old as politics itself.  No doubt some candidate opposing the great Solon paraded a sign with the Greek version of “Soloney Baloney.”  Modern-day political cartoons have nothing on the merciless caricaturing of eighteenth century political cartoonists.

Beneath those snarky attacks, however, there was always, in the United States, a serious, and seriously rational, discourse about the contrasting views of how best to pursue the American ideals of equal birth and inalienable rights.  The so-called liberal group generally felt that the ideal was best pursued through government programs, such as universal health coverage and subsidized education.  The so-called conservative groups generally felt that the ideals would be more successfully pursued by individual initiative and/or the efforts of local governments.  The liberals were also more likely to want change rapidly, usually by legislation, while the conservatives favored slower, more incremental change, without substantial legislative changes.

Political debates about issues were often intense, but they were, in fact, debates about issues.  Insults were traded, heated arguments flung each at the other.  But the arguments and insults centered on the issues, not on the people making them.  What was idiotic was the opposing argument, not the opposing arguer.  Whatever the arguments and however many the insults, the point was that all were talking about, and ultimately compromising on, issues important to the American people and to the promotion of the American ideal.

Sadly, all of that is in the past.  Arguments have given way to rationalizations.  Insults have gone from issue-oriented to ad hominem (or ad feminam).  While Democrats have not been immune to this political transmogrification, it has simply overtaken the Republican party.  Arguments from prominent Republicans have been observably rehearsed.  Witness the frequent use of a term by all Republicans.  The most egregious recent example was the strange argument that the request that Trump talk to Robert Mueller was a “perjury trap.”  After all, how could it support Trump to say that if he lied he would commit a crime, but that if he told the truth he would be admitting to a crime?

The rationalizations have stained the reputations and integrity of even the most prominent Republicans, from whom even Democrats expected so very much more.  Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, openly abandons his duty to the American people and announces that his single goal is to get Obama out of office.  Paul Ryan, leader of the Republican majority in the House, justifies the most outrageous conduct by Trump.  The whole bunch of them respond to the horrors of mass killings of students with stale avoidances — “this is not the time…”, “study mental health…” — and absolutely no action.  They could not even bring themselves to outlaw bump stocks and other gadgets that turn guns into automatic weapons of war.  They don’t just disagree with their opponents; they chant “Lock ’em up!”

I know many good and decent and intelligent people who call themselves Republicans.  I know that these good and decent and intelligent people think about the best policies to promote the American ideal.  I would like to hear their voices again.  I would like to talk to them, with them.  I want to discuss, argue, debate.  I want to compromise, admit the weaknesses of my views and reveal the weaknesses of theirs.  Most of all, I want them to be allowed, by their party, by their leader, and most of all by the political culture, to be their true selves.  I want real political discourse back, and to get it I want my Republicans back.






















One of the many ways that communication can fail in its task to provide honest and accurate information and opinion to others is something we can roughly call equivocation.  Let’s define that term as the deliberate use of a word in two or more senses.  So, for instance, I could say that I was in Milwaukee, when I knew that my listener would assume I was referring to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when in fact I was in Milwaukee, Oregon.

Most equivocations are a bit more subtle than that.  So, for instance, when faced with undeniable evidence of misconduct by a co-employee whom I wanted to protect , I might say that I was not fully aware of that misconduct until this undeniable evidence was produced, even though I had been told of that misconduct previously.

So it is with the words “allegation” and “proof”.  There are many levels of allegations.  There are baseless allegations.  There are bald allegations.  There are rumored allegations.  There are substantial allegations.  There are credible allegations.  There are well-founded allegations.  There are civil and criminal legal allegations.

The same applies to the word “proof”.  In the American legal system, there are at least three different standards of proof.  There is the level of preponderance of the evidence, sometimes called the probabilior standard of proof, which is the standard used in most personal injury claims.  There is what is called the “clear and convincing” standard, used in most civil claims of fraud.  There is the highest standard of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, used in virtually all criminal cases.

There are, however, other venues for allegations and proofs than just the courtroom.  There is what we call the court of public opinion.  There is also the venue of the workplace, the home, the worlds of entertainment, and, of course, the world of politics.  If, for instance, a person in the workplace is alleged to have threatened violence to his co-workers — alleged to threaten to kill his fellow workers — what level of proof might we need to act against the subject of the allegation?  If a publicly recognized entertainer — singer or actor or athlete — is alleged by a woman to have sexually abused her, what level of proof is required before we act against him?  If a politician is alleged to have acted improperly, what proof is needed to throw him or her out?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but we do need to make some basic rules about them.  First, bald allegations are no basis for any action.  People have rights in the eyes of the public just as they do in a court of law, albeit of a different level.  Some proof is necessary to back up any allegation, and we need to determine how much proof is sufficient to take action.  Second, it doesn’t help us to rely on customary views.  There was a time, not very long ago, when sexual abuse was addressed mostly with silence, and that day is over.  What we need to do is establish new customs, but this time based on rational decisions regarding proof.

Third, and most important, our decisions on allegations have to be truly rational, and not based on personal or political advantage.  We cannot excuse Trump for his sexual predations, but we cannot condemn him without also condemning Bill Clinton for his.  These standards that we need to set have to be set as a community, a rational community, and it must cross every political, philosophical and religious line.  We have a chance here to return to being a community committed to the high moral call of the American ideal.  So long as we refuse to do so, we continue to slide away from that ideal.





























On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old husband and father, a successful business owner with a spotless record, was deported to Mexico.  His parents had brought him here when he was ten years old.  He had been in contact with the government and had done everything he could to apply for and receive legal status.

Mr. Garcia is one of thousands of people who are being deported from this country.  Why? Ultimately, because of a conception of America as tribal, as a club earned by legal status, by birth or formal admission.  That admission is controlled by those in power, and apparently  those in power presently are interested in allowing only those with views, and perhaps even skin, similar to their own.

There are, in the United States today, approximately eight to twelve million people, about three percent of the population, who are undocumented.  They, or their parents, either got into the country illegally or they somehow or other lost the legal status they used to enter the country.  Slightly less than one million of them were brought here as children.  This group of people, as a group, commit fewer crimes, make more money, pay more taxes, and achieve higher education, than native born Americans.  All of that begs the obvious question:  why is the present administration so bent on deporting all of them?

There is no one obvious answer to that.  Perhaps it is that the present administration sees it as politically advantageous.  Since, however, the vast majority of Americans want these people to be given a pathway to legal status, this answer is difficult to accept.  Perhaps, then, it is because the present administration is prejudiced against the main body of immigrants on the basis of religion or skin color.  That seems clearly true of a president who would refer to Hispanic and African countries as “shithole”, but I sincerely doubt that the main body of Republican legislators are that bigoted.

Whatever the reason, the impetus for mass deportation and greater barriers to legal immigration demonstrates an egregious misunderstanding of what it is to be an American.  Our country was built on an ideal — equal birth and inalienable rights.  That ideal was the ground for the creation of a nation made up entirely of people who were themselves immigrants.  Some came here to escape oppression, some came for a better life, and some were brought here forcibly as slaves or indentured servants.  It is discomfiting to realize that those immigrants disenfranchised, killed or enslaved the native population of what is now the United States, but that sad historical fact does not erase the fact that the new nation was based, not on ethnic, religious or regional bases but rather on a moral ideal, indeed on the defining moral ideal of absolute obligation to the rights of every human being.

We have been gradually abandoning our commitment to that ideal in favor of a commitment to self-interest.  Why that is true would make a wonderful book written by someone far more talented than I.  It is, however, true, and our present administration is the acme, the pure distillation of that gradual decline.  That we the people are complicit in that abandonment is obvious by our willingness to ignore what would have, at some prior time, been considered the horrendous conduct of our president and by the willingness of our majority legislators to pass over that conduct as, at worst, “unfortunate.”

It is time, it is far past time, to arrest this slide into ego-centrism and to renew our commitment to the ideals that once made the United States a polestar of true freedom, that is, a freedom based on responsibility for others.  That doesn’t happen by legislative fiat.  It happens by individuals, you and I, refusing to ignore outrageous conduct and demanding that our legislators act, not in their own political interests, but in pursuit of the real American ideal.  Politically, it means the election only of people — men and women, liberals and conservatives — who will make political decisions truly on the basis of how those decisions will promote the American ideal.

What about Jorge Garcia?  I don’t know, but I do know that the world is watching, and if there are more such stories, we will likely not be seen as much of an ideal.