The path chosen

The path chosen

This news article, and the reality that it’s describing, fills me with an almost overwhelming sense of frustration.

[Scott Morrison rejects calls for more bushfire help]

Two others do the same.

One, regarding the unimaginable shitshow taking place in Iraq right now – the attack on the U.S. embassy complex, and the just-announced killing of Iran’s most revered military leader in an air strike. [Air strike kills Iran’s most revered military leader] The future doesn’t bode well for peace, there or here. With (our) military rhetoric using words like: now the administration’s “aim is to deter further Iranian bad behavior that has been going on now for over 40 years.” Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have been building, and our President keeps squirting lighter fluid into the red-hot situation.

“The game has changed,” [Defense Secretary Mark T.] Esper said. “And we’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region.”

He said that could include military action to preempt militia attacks if U.S. officials learn about them ahead of time.

And if U.S. officials don’t learn about them ahead of time, where will those attacks be felt? In Iraq? Washington D.C.? New York?

The final enormously frustrating and deeply discouraging news story for today [NYPD Arrests Man for Beating Bronx Man to Death Over $1] is about the gay couple in the Bronx who were attacked in what appeared to be a brutal robbery attempt which netted the muggers $1.00, and resulted in the death of Juan Fresnada, nicknamed “Cuba,” after his country of origin, as he tried to protect his partner from harm. The 60-year-old was left lying in the street, and multiple people, cars and even a bus didn’t stop to help him before his partner could come back.

I am Juan Fresnada. Juan Fresnada is me. He did what I would do. He is dead. I would be too.

People can speak glibly about having “leaders” or, shall we say, “people in positions of authority,” who are outsiders, who are “not afraid to speak their mind,” who are bucking the system, turning it on its head. What we end up with is this. All of it. All of this is what happens when you don’t have a plan and you don’t have a clue. When you thumb your nose at the “experts” and go your own way. When the only counsel you keep is your own.

If this course continues, we are simply going down. We’re going to fall. We may have the best words and the best weapons, but they may not protect us from a thug wielding a garbage can at our heads, or from fires or floods destroying our world, our habitat, as we have grown to know it and love it, or from a missile fired at the embassy in Iraq or a suicide bomber in Grand Central Station at rush hour.

To pull a term from too many calculus textbooks: “it is obvious to the most casual observer” that we are going down the wrong path. Going faster and harder down that same wrong path will not make it the right path. In the end, paths don’t bend to our will. They take us to their logical conclusion. We need to change paths if we’re going to survive. We are, right now, in 2020, at the point of inflection, where we must decide what that path is going to be. With the U.S. built as high on the hill as it is at this point in history, the fall is going to be that much more severe, and harsh, progressing with ever-mounting momentum… until we reach the bottom, and it stops. That’s where our current path will end.

There, what was once “the greatest nation on earth,” now lying in a great heap at the bottom of the hill, all the Republicans and all the Democrats; all the liberals and all the conservatives; all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, will not be able to put this particular Humpty together again.

Jury service: A slippery slope

The first time – and the only time – that I served on a criminal jury, we, the jury, found the guy guilty. It was a police buy and bust operation. Should be illegal for the police to do it – it borders on entrapment – but because “we’re only getting him to do for us what he would have been doing anyway,” it’s not considered that.

Add to that, the guy, the defendant, had previously been a CI. A Confidential Informant. He was on the street, but working with the cops. Apparently he, like many, had decided he was working with the cops so he was gonna do some work on his own, and was thinking he was gonna get extra credit. Running his own little (unauthorized) sting operation to get the goods on somebody. But instead, he got himself arrested, and ended up in a trial, with me on the jury.

After testimony, we went to our chambers and discussed. I couldn’t believe how it went. We were so quickly unanimously in favor of conviction… except for one of us. Me.

It was then that the jury politics came in. The self-appointed head of the jury was Walter Cronkite’s Chief-of-Staff. She was someone unfamiliar with not getting her way. She wanted to go to lunch. She had important things to do. Everyone looked at me when I started asking questions. They made good points. But they couldn’t explain the fact that his cop-handler should have been there, and wasn’t there. I wanted to at least hear what he had to say. It seemed like he was hanging his guy out to dry. I wanted to know the back-story before making up my mind. No one else did. I resisted for a while, but on a second poll, I caved.

Now, over 20 years later, I still feel guilty about it. Ms. Adler probably doesn’t even remember doing jury duty. She is now the head of some nonprofit, doing good work, I’m sure, for Syrian refugees. That’s all well and good. But I remember how she ran roughshod over that jury, and how she persuaded me, a reasonable person, to behave in an unreasonable way.

To those whose lives were most affected by our “collective” decision, I am sorry.

The Republican Party Now Must be Banned

I’ve always felt that we need to have at least two strong and healthy political parties to make our system “work.” But based on this week’s events alone – Trump’s statements regarding his “trust” in Kim Jong-Un, the Michael Cohen testimony, and the Republicans’ lack of preparedness for same and refusal to ask meaningful questions – not to mention the tragic and despicable events of the other hundred-some weeks we’ve suffered through under this regime – I am starting to be of the mind that one of them should not be the Republican Party.

When the Democrats take control of the Senate in 2020, I would like to see the Republican Party, as it exists today, banned. Made illegal. A hate group. A terrorist organization.

There are various international standards for political parties to be banned. “The standard of proof for banning political parties, mandated by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg [for example], is high. In societies that value free speech and association, it is not enough to prove even the worst motivation; a party must also have a ‘real potential’ to make good on evil designs.”

[Germany’s supreme court decides not to ban the neo-Nazi party]

While Germany’s NDP party was not banned, even though it bears in principle a startling resemblance to the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, the reason it was not banned was that it failed this critical test. Its numbers had shrunk to a level that could not deliver on its promise.

The US Republican Party is fundamentally different, however. It can deliver on its promise, and is in the process of doing so, to the nation’s deep and possibly irrecoverable detriment. The Republican Party, it seems, does pass this test, and so must be banned.

This will not be easy. It will be a wrenching process. But it is a process we must be willing to go through if, in the words of Elijah Cummings, we feel any obligation to “keep our democracy intact.” If we don’t care about that, then forgive this intrusion. If however we do feel this obligation, to ourselves, to our peers, to our children, then our path is laid before us. It is only for us to walk it, and not to simply cease our journey over its arduousness or inconvenience.

The purpose of this article – more of a note, really; a marker – is not to demonstrate my case. Clearly I have not done so. The purpose is to draw that line in the sand. A spade has been called a spade. Add your own examples. The point is, either we look at where we are, or we don’t. If we do, it’s hard to miss the precipice ahead. We can either turn aside now, while enough of us still have our wits about us, and some level of influence over outcomes, or we can join the mass of those crying out as we go over the cliff.

If you think it’s beyond us to resolve, and instead are looking to God, hoping or praying that He will protect us and fix all of this, or wondering instead why He doesn’t send help, someone to take care of this situation, consider this:

He did send help. He sent you.

Faith restored by cinema, and the library. Thank you, Kanopy.

As one article I recently read starts out, “There’s literally never been a better time to get a New York City Library card.”

I just got mine, after not having one for at least a decade, to be able to watch Kanopy, the film-streaming service connecting libraries and educational institutions around the country with thousands of films that “truly resonate with us, that inspire us, enrich us, and challenge our perspectives” (from the http://www.kanopy.com site). I am literally moved to tears by what is available on Kanopy; it feels like I’ve been given a new lease on life amidst the dramatic downward spiral of Hollywood’s vapid offerings. Independent film houses are few and far between, there are no more video shops to rent foreign or independent films, and nearly all other streaming services are trying to out-blockbuster each other with further mindless and meaningless big-budget content.

www.kanopy.comKanopy, it seems, stands alone. And did I mention that it’s free? All you need is a library card. With that, you can watch up to 10 titles per month, so it’s not for binge-watching. But a full life should barely be able to accommodate 10 meaningful films a month… along with concerts, visits to museums and cultural institutions, and books to read, all of which are enabled, for free, with a library card.

Cutting the [cable TV] cord was the first step. The second step is using that detachment to select the material available to enrich one’s own life, on one’s own terms. With so much media and political pressure to join one bandwagon or another, the extent to which we are subject to outside manipulation is not even clear to us, even if we try hard to be vigilant against it. The fact that a group of people spends millions and millions of dollars to make the latest huge new sensational film should mean something, right? I mean, it must be important and compelling. Right?

Contrast that with someone who, with no money, no big resources or sponsors, a pocket-change and credit card budget, but with vision and purpose, would set out to make a film, to tell a story. We are so conditioned to thinking that we need to throw more money, rather than less, at every problem, in order to solve it, that going the other way is one of those things that makes us slap ourselves in the forehead and go, “Duh, why didn’t I think of that?!”

So, thank you, NYPL (or any public library close to you). Thank you, Kanopy. Thank you, NPR. Thank you, PBS. Thank you to all the organizations whose purpose is to enlighten and enrich, to bring the greatest good to the most people. We need that, now, more than ever.

The breaking point is near… the breaking point is here.

José Andrés, another famous chef, went to Puerto Rico immediately after Hurricane Maria, to help figure out how to feed the people. Instead of figuring it out, he and his associates found themselves simply doing it, from the moment they landed. Actually before they landed, in calls to as many chefs as he could reach there, the plan was, “Let’s not plan, let’s not meet, let’s start cooking!” FEMA didn’t grasp the urgency of it. It wasn’t about “how to feed the people in the weeks to come.” It was how to feed the people NOW.

I am learning about this from a TED Talk (“How a team of chefs fed Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria”) right now. I love TED Talks. They keep me sane.

So, the first Monday they were there, they did a thousand meals. By the following Sunday, they were doing 25,000. They kept outgrowing their spaces. 25,000 became 50,000. They moved their operation to the Coliseum. They became the biggest restaurant in the world. They were making close to 70,000 meals a day. From one location alone.

Volunteers showed up by the hundreds. At any given moment, 700 volunteers were working on feeding the hungry. This was not plastic food. It was real food, food that people recognized, food that brought comfort, as well as sustenance.

Get this: at one point, FEMA was actually asking him, “How are you able to do this? How are you able to get the food to prepare?” He replied, “Simple: by calling, and paying, and getting.”

And at this point in this Talk, I just paused and cried for a few minutes. I don’t like crying! But every day I’m simply stunned, at some point during the day, by what our current president and his administration are doing to this country. And what they are NOT doing FOR our country. And Puerto Rico is part of this country. What they did there should be enough for every one of them to be impeached at the very least, or perhaps sentenced to death. Instead, they skate by, lying their way out of one accountability after another.

When it comes to people, families, feeding people, making sure that people have roofs over their heads, that the sick are being cared for, that people have at least some glimmer of hope for a meal and a place to lay down their heads… these are the bedrocks of basic civilization anywhere, everywhere. And in this country? We don’t even think about these things, because we take them so for granted. So to look at these people here, in Puerto Rico, or the people (yes, people!) rounded up at the southern US border, separating parent from child so that we can then apply our “unaccompanied minor” handling protocol… these things are NOT the marks of a civilized country, they are NOT something to be proud of, they are NOT Christian or Muslim or Jewish or atheists’ values! They are an absence of values, an absence of morals or ethics, an absence of a backbone or a soul or a heart.

The things that our government is doing (or not doing) are not normal, not acceptable. Don’t be fooled! It’s not anyone else’s fault. It’s not Obama’s fault. It’s not the Democrats’ fault. It’s not the law’s fault. It’s the people in charge, and the people in charge right now, who are causing all of these things to happen, are Donald Trump and his administration, Paul Ryan and his party loyalists in the House, and Mitch McConnell and his loyalists in the Senate. These people don’t need to be impeached; they must be tried for treason, and, once found guilty as they are, sentenced to the same sentence given to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, or to Sacco and Vanzetti. Their crimes have already cost thousands of lives, and have perhaps irreparably harmed the nation’s economy (the real economy, the people’s economy), the environment, and the entire future of the United States.

At this point, there is no idly sitting by, watching it through a lorgnette. To paraphrase even George W Bush – demonized a few short years ago, who now looks like a saint by comparison – “Everyone has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with Trump.” There is no middle ground. There is no “Let’s wait and see,” no “give him a chance.” All of that is behind us now. The wait is over. The chance has been given. At every conceivable opportunity – and more often than not, even before we were aware that there was an opportunity – the path that leads the opposite direction from all grace and goodness has been chosen as the path all of us are by implication forced to take.

Are you comfortable being labeled as the generation, or the era, or the society, that allowed this to happen? I am not. I don’t want to get arrested, or lose my job, or lose my home. I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to sit on my fucking ass either, as if there is nothing to be done. At some point, in spite of the horrendous risks, there necessarily comes a point at which no more can be tolerated. I have a high tolerance, and a lot of trust in “the system;” trust that things will work out, eventually. But this is a terrific test we are being put through. I don’t know how much more bending the entire system can take, without actually breaking. I feel that we are getting precipitously close to that threshold.

When things finally do break, as they ultimately will, it’s never a pretty sight. It’s never better than it would have been had things been arrested just prior to breaking. It’s always better to stop when it’s still bending. But we have to accept that it’s going to break. We have to accept that we are at the limit. We can’t have some say, “No, I think we are not there yet. I think we can go a little further.”

Do we really have to wait till it actually breaks before we all acknowledge that the limit was reached? Granted, there’s still wiggle room while it’s bending. He said this, she said that. “We’re not that close. It’s still in flux. It’s still working. It’s still…”

SNAP!

Is that what we’re all waiting for?

Signature Bank earnings down. That may not be so bad.

Signature Bank earnings down. That may not be so bad.

I wish we had not gotten everything so backwards.

It used to be that there were companies, who wanted to make money, and customers, who wanted to spend less (and get more). There was an old saying, “the customer is always right,” or “the customer is king.” Companies did what they could to attract and retain customers. Without the customers, they knew that they had nothing.

Now, enter stockholders. Suddenly these companies have a new source of revenue, and a new set of deliverables, that has nothing to do with whatever it is that they “look like” they do. It’s just a return-on-investment scenario. Companies are favored that are making the most money. Investors naturally think it’s a great thing if companies they have a stake in are making a lot of money. But so too do people who don’t own the stock. They get confused, and all up in the hype. Random people think it’s great for these companies to be making huge profits. They think it’s a sign of healthy economy if companies are making a lot of money.

If a company is making a lot of money, though, the customers are getting less, and paying more. There are no two ways about it. Everybody behaves as if they own shares in X Company, even if they don’t, and they all get super excited when the stock performance numbers are good. But those shareholders, or wannabe-shareholders, are the exact same people who, when wearing their consumer hats instead of their shareholder hats, will complain about the prices, or that they aren’t getting enough for their money.

It’s kind of like the “aspirational voters,” who vote Republican because that’s how they see themselves – they want to be rich people – even though every time they do so, they are actually rewarding the people who are cutting their chances of “making it,” that much more. They are voting against themselves as they actually are, and voting for themselves as they wish they were.

Signature Bank earnings down $100 million thanks to dud taxi loans

So yeah, Signature Bank’s earnings are down. This is a bank that said yes to the medallion loans when other said no. This is a bank that said yes to the company I work for (disclosure), and gave the most favorable rates for business expansion. This is the bank that will open a branch office on the 12th floor of an office building at $50 a foot rather than using street-level retail spaces at $250+ per square foot. From a customer’s perspective, this is a great bank (as banks go). Perhaps from a stock-ownership perspective, it’s not.

But we have to ask ourselves, who, really, is king nowadays? It’s certainly not the forgotten customer any more. That’s just the poor sod who actually buys the products. The only players you ever hear about are the shareholders. But far more of us are customers, of far more companies, than we are shareholders.

Why are we continuing to vote against ourselves?

The glass broke.

The glass broke.

At first, while listening to this TED Talk, I wasn’t sure that it was relevant, though I wanted it to be. It’s a subject I’ve given a lot of thought to.

Lera Boroditsky: How language shapes the way we think.

The speaker hit on the example of “the vase broke” vs “he broke the vase,” and the implications of these two different KIND of observations implicit in our language constructs (different in kind, not in degree), and my thoughts went immediately to my own home, as recently as two nights ago.

I had opened the cabinet in the kitchen to retrieve a glass, a very particular one I had just recently bought, and it was cracked. I asked Phoenix – my other half – about it. “It broke.” This didn’t satisfy my English-language-fueled blame-lust, so I pressed on, saying something like, “Oh, I guess it just decided to break itself.”

Phoenix has lived in the U.S. a long time, but he was not born here, and English was not his first language. His was Tagalog, heavily influenced by Spanish.

So perhaps his way of describing such events does not show an unwillingness to take responsibility, as I have would have had it. Perhaps instead it shows an acknowledgement of the actual change that has resulted in the physical make-up of the world, to be weighed in its own merit.

I’d like everyone to watch this Talk, and identify ways in which their own thinking or behavior might be swayed by the ways we tend to describe things.

In truth, yes: “the glass broke.” I think I can learn to be ok with that.

Will we need a universal basic income in the future?

rosie-robotI was drawn into a conversation recently of whether we will need a universal basic income at some time in the not-so-distant future. This is something that I’ve been thinking about perhaps since I graduated from college, and I’m now a few years away from retirement. So it’s something I’ve thought of from time to time, over the years.

I’d like to share with you a couple of TED Talks on the subject that I came upon just within the last week or two. First, one by Martin Ford, called “How we’ll earn money in a future without jobs,” and another, by Rutger Bregman, “Poverty isn’t a lack of character; it’s a lack of cash.

There are others as well. But these two I found particularly key; the point drawn out of the first one is that even though this is a familiar tune we’ve heard numerous times before – the robots are going to put us out of work – the technology has shifted, not just in degree, but in kind, in ways that make it perhaps more of a realistic possibility now than at other times in the past. And the second illustrates the difference in peoples’ responses to everyday occurrences, decisions they have to make, life choices, etc., when comparing their financially-secure state with their financially-at-risk state. It makes the case for a guaranteed minimum income for reasons of what I’ll call social pragmatism, where the first one does so for reasons of technological encroachment on human employability.

It seems clear to me that the idea of “running the country like a business,” as some still say they want us to do today, is an idea whose time has simply passed. With more and more business processes being executed by machines, computers, systems, etc., what does running a business have to do with solving human problems?

I think the time has come, rather, to run the country like a junior high school concert band, or soccer team. Here, the coach/conductor is rightly more focused on building character, helping the team members to find their strengths, than on winning competitions. With a sufficient safety net such as our modern society ought to be able to provide, people can be led to find their own truths, their own best skills, and quite probably make the greatest contributions to society at large. In eliminating the survivalist “do unto others before they do unto you” kind of thinking, we can create an entirely different national dialog and identity.

A guaranteed minimum income can provide the means to that end. And it may well have to.

Do Republicans have trouble with math and memory?

I keep hearing Republican members of Congress and other GOP talking heads saying that politically they need to deliver on health care reform and/or tax reform. Something. Anything. Because they made that promise to the people, and the people don’t like it when you promise something and don’t deliver.

Some of that is true. People don’t like it when you promise something and don’t deliver. That much is true. However, who are the people? Who was the promise made to? What percentage of them were on board with that promise, thought it was a good thing, from the get-go?

Well, let’s look at some numbers. Vagaries of the electoral process aside, when you’re talking about people, and how the people voted, it seems to me that you’re explicitly not talking about how the election districts voted or how the Electoral College voted. You’re talking about how the people voted.

In that regard, it is easy to see that most people in this country did not vote for the Trump Agenda in the first place, and an even smaller number today approve of the Trump Agenda as it is actually unfolding.

There are about 320 million people in the US. This represents all people, whether of voting age or not, whether voting-eligible or not. It’s everybody. Our sons and daughters, our immigrant population. Arguably, everyone who would be affected by the laws of this land. Of those, 63 million people voted for Trump. When you look at these numbers, that means that only about 20% of the actual US population asked for him to be in the White House.

Taking a survey today, you’d find that of those original Trump supporters, only 80% approve of where he’s going and how he’s doing today. Only 60% strongly approve. Even going with the higher 80% number, that means that arguably only 51 million are on board with the Agenda. That’s less than 16% of the total US population.

Think I’m being too harsh? Ok. Let’s look at just the voting-eligible population (VEP) of 231 million instead of total US population. In that case, applying the same calculations, we net out at 22% of the US voting-eligible population who are looking to the Administration to do what it said it was going to do. (The numbers are only slightly different when looking at it as percentage of voting-age population (VAP) – around 21% in that case.)

So by and large, here’s how I see it. The Republicans can continue to say that they have a mandate to do what they promised the American people they would do. But the numbers tell a different story. The numbers say that the vast majority of the American people – at least 80% of us – would be best served by this President not doing what he said he was going to do.

I for one can’t wait for them to stop doing it.

The Gift Horse of the GOP Tax Plan

The GOP tax plan is being sold with statements like “lots of people will be able to file their income tax returns on a post card. There’s no one who’s not gonna like that.”

Oh really? No one?

Here’s one: ME.

Look… When I install Windows 10 on a computer, the first thing it asks is if you want to install with the default settings, “Best for most people,” or to customize. I have studied each of these settings – there are about 15 of them – and in every single case, I reverse the default settings in order to protect our security and to meet my needs. The default settings are clearly best for Microsoft and perhaps other unnamed entities. But not for the user.

Do not for a minute presume that filing your income tax return on a document the size of a post card is going to benefit YOU. It’s going to benefit THEM. Especially if you have any kind of business expenses, or charitable giving, or whatever… you’re going to want to fill out a long form and itemize everything you can.

Especially now, with the GOP strategists and technicians, operating sub rosa to create a framework for further GOP control (via mechanisms including but not limited to gerrymandering and the push for voter registration), it’s necessary to be ultra vigilant in our circumspection.

In other words: Yes. DO look that gift horse in the mouth.

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