The Killing of America's Social Promise

DDIt’s amazing how lies persist. It’s mind-boggling how widely they are believed. It’s baffling how far and frequently lies are distributed. Lies kill the usefulness and benefits of truth, destroy its purpose. Lies take a large, tragic toll. Yet on they roll—spread and framed; applauded by people without shame. It’s astonishing how many people openly embrace their damage.

Many of the great temples and statues of Asia, marvels of human ingenuity and indefatigability, an awe-inspiring celebration of great common works, were pulled down in our times and destroyed by lies. Stone faces carved by hands thousands of years ago were smashed. Their rubble litters the courtyards that were once grand entrances of power or prayer. In Iraq, antiquities were looted. In Egypt, the artifacts of a vaunted history were stolen.

But lies don’t smash or loot—yes, they do! They guide the hands that do. They encourage and justify the actions.

Now lies have come home to kill.

An old man who spent 20 years in military service sworn to protect America has murdered three of the country’s own innocents—a 14-year-old child and his 69-year-old grandfather, a 53-year-old woman visiting her mother—and then yelled a repugnant salute of one of history’s leaders of genocide from the police car where he sat handcuffed. He pulled the trigger, but the murders were committed by lies.

Old biases live in death. In those who are without the moral intelligence to see that hate is blind and absurd, an evil of blame not righteousness. To preserve itself, the lie has to find a way to cross over and become an act. That act is a bright mirror of destruction on a global and personal scale. It might be a political act, a territory grab, or legislation. But it might be the lie repeated as a bullet. Truth rarely kills. Virtually every gun death is attached to a lie; whether it be domestic or social or political, the trigger pull is caused by false beliefs. Continue reading The Killing of America’s Social Promise

Life After the One Percent

DDI don’t know any members of the one percent, but my daughter does. She’s my eyes and ears in their camp. She’s been trained since birth to observe, synthesize and project at multiple levels, with the virtue and creativity of the human experience at the center of her assessments. We complain about the violations of privacy via our phones and e-mails, but the massive collection of our electronic imprint has no meaning without the hands and minds of people—and we should be focused on their intent along their methods.

History shows that the end game matters. And the goals of the game. I have always been less concerned about surveillance round-ups and wrongful prosecutions than I have about willful prosecutions—the kind I see in Florida and other states, where often those in the cross-hairs don’t reach the courtrooms.

Every police department now has the firepower—and mentality—of a paramilitary unit on rogue missions with a wink and little oversight from the state. New York City had the widest net, but other cities occupied neighborhoods in the name of crime which never seemed to drop. And when it did, it was rarely related to the local version of stop-and-frisk. Neighborhoods don’t require mass round-ups or the concentration camps supposedly being built somewhere in the northwest. Local rogue missions hide behind a screen of local crime and stereotypes; it parallels the gangs; it spirals until communities in the cities are isolated, targeted by legal and illegal operators until they spin out of control and the mechanisms of group actions required for safety and safe passage are broken down. Recording these cell phone calls didn’t improve security or domestic tranquility for many older working neighborhoods in urban areas.

In fact, I wish Florida had an accessible electronic database of calls in the case of Trayvon Martin. A quick check would have shown calls to his father, who lived in the complex where he was walking, and that he was talking to a friend about the usual teenage things. Maybe electronic surveillance would have exonerated him.

It’s a fantasy—and a stretch—but you see my point: the rapid accumulation of police and citizen armed confrontations with other citizens is increasing, and the alarm is silent. We are monitoring the wrong things. But America habitually looks the wrong way.

Turn your attention to the states for a moment. Both Florida and Virginia have developed state standards that are set at different levels by race and ethnicity. Asians and whites have to meet higher standards than blacks and Hispanics. Hear the outrage? No? Learning itself is being re-segregated by developing a two-tier system for knowledge, even when students attend the same schools. Discrimination, in the form of inequality, is officially mandated by the state.

In the meantime, in some systems, upper-income families are receiving vouchers to be used at charter, private, and parochial schools. This takes money away from public schools by allowing tax dollars to be assigned to the child rather than the system. It’s a plan that kicks the poor. Continue reading Life After the One Percent

Democrats: Speak Up!

DDSmall-time Republicans and big-time media money have been able to change the political messaging in this country by openly calling for an agenda of false rebellion in the name of freedom that actually exerts greater control and is more expensive. Many people hear the previous sentence as: “Republicans have changed the political agenda in the name of freedom.” One of the ways Republicans are successful is they offer a complicated subterfuge and dissemble pieces a few at a time. Democrats respond by talking among themselves (as this piece does!) instead of to the country.

Messages that dissemble or only speak to insiders create a disconnect, but only one of these disconnects has leverage with voters, and it is the Republican choice. Republicans confine truth to the background and focus on the places where logic has become disconnected—the places where things terribly wrong can be easily examined, using lies and blame.

In the global pop news of the moment, the Russia seizure of Crimea, a preposterous event in the modern world where respect for the sanctity of borders is the first principle of international relations, Republicans avoid this first principle and the details of Russia’s energy exports being controlled by a state-owned corporation (which means its revenues are paid to the state not the private sector). Republicans avoid the analysis of how important the massive spider-work of Ukraine’s pipelines is to Russia’s efficient transmission of gas and oil to Europe. They avoid the fears Russia has internally of becoming a country influenced by its Muslim population in its southern regions (14 percent of its population).

Instead, Republicans have created a public narrative which comes close to defending Putin’s actions by blaming Obama for not defending America’s imperialism. It is circulating as if Russia is ideologically free of imperialist tendencies. In essence, it seeks to elevate the false illusion of Russian “strength”—which is its criminality—over the policy of President Obama to allow each country to find its internal stability with a minimum of big power influence.

Imperialism is a big idea with a long history, and blame is short and sweet. Blame is the lemonade made from the political lemons handed your opponents—if you are Republican.

But no evidence supports the GOP recipe (except magical thinking!) that Putin or any Russian leaders have based moves or calculated Obama’s response into their positions and military actions.

Beginning with the Russian revolution itself, the partitioning of Germany after World War II, the 1950s invasions of several eastern European countries, the placement of missiles in Cuba, the support of insurgencies in Africa, the invasion of Afghanistan, and most recently Chechnya, Georgia and Ossetia, there is no predictive proof that a country with a long history of using military force within its region, through a variety of governments, under a variety of leaders, is tempered by American or European reaction!

Blame doesn’t need proof, just popular sentiment; blame Obama.

History and facts show the contrary. Russia plays no zero sum, either/or game; it views its interests singularly. Weighing the importance of the pipelines through Ukraine to the West and the sudden toppling of its puppet, Viktor Yushchenko (who cut bait), had far more to do with Putin’s moves than any imagined review of Obama’s policies.

Putin would be insulted at the idea he contemplated or was influenced by Obama’s policies, rather than acting on his own. He would vehemently argue his view is what is best for Russia and Russians faced with a neighbor whose family income had dropped 25% in 20 years and was leaning heavily westward in search of opportunities missing in the 1930s state-owned Russian political economy.

Putin ignored Barack and did what Russians have always done. Republicans did what they have always done: ignore truth and blame Obama.

Even at home, in the face of one of the most magnificent political successes since the passage of social security, by a President whose failure was an avowed goal of the Republican Party and the House of the national legislature, even with seven million people enrolled in health care through the new marketplace, without demonstrations or riots in the streets, with no more upheaval than paid commercials and very long, calm lines of last minute enrollees, Republicans still plan to run against “Obamacare” in November. It will be an ultimate test of blame against truth, dissembling facts against critical thinking, of bias versus logic. Continue reading Democrats: Speak Up!

Russia's Cold War Makes Crimea a Hot Spot

DDVladimir Putin is an authentic throwback. No country, not China or North Korea—or the US—has made the bold move he accomplished in under a month. As the head of state of Russia’s government, he ordered and executed the grab of another state’s sovereignty by passive force of arms, using a series of sham excuses and a phony plebiscite to install Russian hegemony over a territory that a week ago belonged to Ukraine.

That basket of facts alone is worthy of sharper focus and penetrating discussions, but US politicians, Russian specialists, and media keep talking around it. The story wanders away to ask what Putin will do next. (Will he invade Ukraine—ignoring that he already has!) Those who see news as prophecy ask how will Europe and the US respond—all without any real sense of the gravity of what Putin has already done. His announcement that Crimea is now under Russian political and military control, and his signing an agreement to annex a territory that a week ago had only local officials without sovereign power to enter into an agreement to turn its territory and governance over to another country, is monumental.

Except Native Americans, no nation has achieved a land grab from another country without a protracted armed struggle in more than a century.

Even five years ago, when Russia recognized the independence of the small territory of South Ossetia from Georgia, it did not annex it.

What makes Putin’s announcement so precedent-setting is that it began without threats or troops, as part of the debate about Ukraine’s internal affairs, in the name of a Ukrainian president who was deposed by the shadow of his own fears. Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, had been under siege from Ukraine’s population, who wanted a closer alignment with the West, especially in trade, finance and travel.

Instead, Yanukovych turned toward Russia. Especially after Putin offered him a $15 billion loan agreement, to finance his government and his wildly out-of-line corruption. Citizens took to the streets. Unprepared, inept, Yanukovych caved and left the country voluntarily, landing in Russia where he held press conference near Ukraine’s border, asserting he still held the presidency and his overthrow was illegal. He held his press conference on February 28th, promising to fight for Ukraine.

In the meantime, Ukrainians were busy touring his off-the-books house and private zoo. He hasn’t been heard from again. He played no role in the present Russian action, except to provide a reason for Russia to ignore the interim government and claim it threatened Crimea and was anti-Russian, putting Crimean citizens of Russian heritage at risk.

Yanukovych’s ouster, however, saved Russia $15 billion and gained them Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula—in less than three weeks. (Of course, he loses his house.)

Here are five reasons to focus not only on the next moves for all sides, but where the state of affairs is now: Continue reading Russia’s Cold War Makes Crimea a Hot Spot

Try It Out!

DDI spent the week watering the well. Drinking coffee from five Ethiopian regions, feeling a link to the small family farms that depend on the income from the sales of beans, thankful to have a good relationship with a coffee seller in DC who provides me the 15 to 20 pounds my daughter sends me every two or three months.

But I can’t get my friends to try it! The corporate brands have them dialed in. So this morning’s Sumatra brings an old question: how do you get people to change? Why is change resisted?

In part the questions explain the Republican attraction: People don’t have to give up very much except government to be Republican. It’s a safe default for the risk-averse, even when in sight of something better.

I also spent the week anticipating the visit of friends I haven’t seen in 40 years. That energy was a celebration of passage; how vision grows out of change. Vision pushes away fear and brings hope. That why Sarah Palin sneered at “that hopey thing”—it give a freedom found on the inside, a freedom to grow; not just a freedom to fight government. Friends bring collective energy, a unique group experience that in politics is called the public good.

Republicans have abandoned that part of the public square, substituted profit for its focus, and measure of profit.

The maxim that people are willing to turn down collective advancement and fight against their own interests is proven both by the experimental and empirical. Why are we surprised?

What’s the strategy that will make the resistant change their minds?

On race? No way. On women? Lip service contradicted. On the public good? A rip-off! On income? Be glad for what you got.

This core is the Republican fortress. Impenetrable. But it’s placed to cause the maximum fright. As Barack begins to end his second term, race matters less; the coded challenges now go after his record and deliberately misconstrue his policies. The goal is to tear down his legacy. Listen, you can hear it from all sides. Continue reading Try It Out!

Ukraine: No Rules, No Foul

DDThe real story in Ukraine is what happens when somebody doesn’t play by the rules. It is one of the great examples of conflict resolution unresolved. It is frothed with personalities and political interests, historic sleights and economic targets, military force, diplomacy and big money rolled into a global storm. It’s also an old-fashioned tale. So far, without terrorism.

The old Cold War, which the Ukraine conflict resembles, was always about resources and territory—hegemony—never about markets and state collapse or ideological goals. The old Cold War displayed raw, unvarnished power. The annual military parades in Moscow with the latest Soviet hardware and massed troops in lockstep were designed to reassure its citizens at home and the world abroad of its power and fierceness and its absolute domination within its sphere.

The Soviets’ largest Cold War failure came in Afghanistan. Attempting to prop up a puppet regime, the Soviets were dragged into a long-term fight that proved unwinnable for the same reasons the Americans later discovered.

The December 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, surprisingly, was swift and without violence or troop movements—unlike what we see in Ukraine. Its most notable feature was the orderly transfer of power to new national entities. In less than a month, new governments were in place in the 12 republics that were its former satellites.

The Soviet flag had been taken down, the Russian flag hoisted. Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned and handed power to Boris Yeltsin.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine represent a backward step from the rule of law, the recognition of the democratic rights of people to pursue self-determination, and the right of state sovereignty and inviolate national borders.

The Russians made their move too soon. They showed up in unmarked uniforms like thugs. But I’m getting ahead of the story. It begins with the moral and political failure of the elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Soviet puppet whose gift was greed and a taste for big ticket extravagance, especially palatial residences. His weakness was an utter forfeit of skills for leadership and leveraging Ukraine’s national interests in its courtship by West and East.

To both sides, Ukraine is a vital interest.

He only had eyes for Russia.

The people of the Ukraine saw their future differently. Why be linked to a country whose economy was backwards, mired in the 1930s, without modern manufacturing, no thriving tech sector, no robust consumer sector, and failing infrastructure—and no plans for modernization?

Ukraine, on the other hand, with roughly 30% of Russia’s population, is in the top five global grain producers. With broad plains of fertile farmland, it is attractive to a Russia that still has trouble feeding itself. With modern market reforms, including financing credits, risk insurance, land reform, mechanized farming, this sector could increase its production and economic returns dramatically.

Ukraine also has well established industries in machine goods and aerospace.

But energy is Ukraine’s sweetest spot. And many of its energy projects and facilities are located in Crimea and UKRAINE_GAS-945Eastern Ukraine, the areas with the largest numbers of ethnic Russians, areas showing support for Russia’s intrusion. Ukraine is a scatterwork of gas and oil pipelines, many leading to Europe, mostly supplied by Russian production in gas and oil. Ukraine is a big buyer of Russian oil and gas, and also a big reshipper through its critical pipelines.

These pipelines are what Putin eyes as the prize. In offering $15 billion to Ukraine before the president turned chicken, left the country while claiming the powers of office, holding press conferences on Russian soil, Russia planned on leveraging its economic assistance for hegemony over Ukraine’s energy sector, especially its pipeline rates. Moreover, Ukraine oil reserves rank it 50th in the world. Yet it imports all of its natural gas supplies from Russia. Already, Putin has ended Ukraine’s pricing discount. Continue reading Ukraine: No Rules, No Foul

Is Arizona the New Mississippi?

DDRape. Sexual violence. Guns. Denial of health care. Food stamps. Religious liberty. Gays. Immigrants. Jobs. Deficits. Defense. Is Arizona the new Mississippi?

Do you really practice your religious beliefs in business? Is there a religious doctrine that prohibits a believer, of any faith, from doing business—selling goods and services—with others who believe or live by different tenets? Is there a commandment from God that prohibits trade and business interactions with groups outside of your faith, or those whose behavior is interpreted as anathema to your faith and personal beliefs?

Did Moses miss a tablet?

Does your faith practice apply equally to giving and receiving? How far does your practice of rejection go? Will you reject a sentence or fine from a gay judge? Will you refuse treatment by a married gay doctor? Or not get your hair done by a married gay beautician? Will you send back a meal brought by a gay server? Will your gay radar constantly ping the world around you, causing you to be the flippered ball in the machine?

Does your personally decided prohibition of faith include members of your family, as it does in Dick Cheney’s household, where love had nothing to do with it and his and his daughter’s stance against gay marriage left him with a house divided.

Is this article of religious faith—no business interaction with gays—a personal inconvenience that challenges you and makes you uncomfortable, so you blame the victims of your prejudice, rather than acknowledge the inadequacy of your faith and the paucity of your good will?

Who passes these laws?

Not even the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Gnostic Gospels said shun the gays; do not sell to them. For faith is not Arizonaaffected or demonstrated by interactions, but by actions: the way I act with those with whom I interact is the real witness of my faith and belief!

This latest Arizona law seems a little creepy and paranoid. It substitutes personal preference for faith principle. Under the law’s hallelujah principle, it allows each believer to set the tenets of their own belief. If some Christians will sell me flowers if I marry or have a same-sex partner, other Christians may refuse. And if they do, I should make the sign of blessing and rejoice that I have not put their faith to the test or impinged on their freedom.

We are back in the looking glass zone.

In that bright tunnel, my elaborated personal beliefs are the source of my freedom and faith. Freedom is no longer a social promise that we mutually defend, lifting it higher. It is personal only. By law. There is no mutual trust. No common ground.

Society’s claim on freedom actually lifts freedom to its highest level: it allows me to believe while I help others who do me no harm. But if my freedom results in injury to you by debasement, missed economic opportunity, the denial of services and goods, I have not paid freedom forward. I have discriminated. I have sinned. Continue reading Is Arizona the New Mississippi?

Self-Defense: An Outlet for Violence and Murder?

DDIs it a delusion or a lie? A mistaken identity under stress and unreliable circumstances, or a catch-all fix, a safety outlet for violence and murder? The “I-thought-I-saw” defense?

Is ordering a pizza and not calling the police after shooting at a parked and then moving car filled with black male teenagers, striking one of them three times inside the car fleeing in self-defense, a reckless disregard and depraved indifference to human life—the legal text book definition of manslaughter? Or is it the vivid derangement of a mind and soulless heart that knows its own privilege to murder will be protected on a chain of unfounded, unsupported claims (I was in fear; I heard threats; I saw a gun; I fired to kill)?

That privilege tied to the new code, the “I-thought-I-saw” defense, was upheld with the same dispatch as the pizza was ordered. In Florida prosecutor Angela Corey’s office, justice is served as a custom order to defendants who have one thing in common: inflict death by shooting upon black male youth and acquittals and hung juries will result, letting defendants walk away from a justice blind to its own faults. Black life—and sympathy for its death—finds no justice in mercy.

Each killing enters a subterranean chamber of horrors. Each act of murder flogs moral courage and truth until they are unrecognizable. Then courage and truth are released to wander, broken and voiceless, though communities where they are eyewitnesses to their demolition as virtues, smashed over and over by a pall of evil that appears normal, that feints to want what we want—love, security, protection, joy, an inner peace, an outward happiness, the unspeakable treasures of a life. Yet that evil turns to strike with its stake, to destroy virtue and abandon love, and fill every empty heart with fear and hate, the passions of evil.

Killing and death are evil’s rewards. This subterranean chamber knows nothing of self-defense—as an act born of love, whose grief is forgiven by our mercy.

Instead, we have hate and make-believe.

The cry of the earth in pain has never been so great. Massacres reign after church in Northern Nigeria, killing hundreds. Conflict violence abounds throughout Africa, raping thousands. The brutality of bombs across the globe kills innocents by tens. For a century now, the great genocides against humanity have become political metaphors for attack politicians who blame the victims and dead. With impunity.

Military assaults against women rise steadily, in and out of the service, also by athletes from high school to professionals, by members of Congress who enable death and sexual violence by their silence and their words, by a politics whose ideology is more important than the statesmanship of an old fashioned, stand-up morality. The Republicans have no Abraham Lincolns. No Everett Dirksens. Continue reading Self-Defense: An Outlet for Violence and Murder?

Rand Paul's Vicarious Politics

DDRand Paul is a political predator with a double standard.

In talking about a prospective Hillary Clinton candidacy, he mentioned the incident with Bill. The incident Newt Gingrich tried to impeach Bill for, Rand Paul reframed and called Bill’s involvement an act of “violence.” “Violence”? “The kind we should all be opposed to,” Rand Paul said.

So how did Rand Paul, who said “we should all oppose” sexual “violence” vote on the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the Senate last year? He voted “no”.

It seems some violence he doesn’t oppose. Here’s why, in his own words: “The legislation would increase benefits available under VAWA to specifically include victims of stalking and ‘cyber-stalking,’ as well as same-sex couples, and illegal immigrants who are victims of any sort of violence.”

It seems he doesn’t oppose the “violence” of GOP elected members of Congress, which, if framed from the same time period as President Clinton, includes inappropriate activities with pages and staffers’ wives, and more.

In 2004, Rep. Robert Sherman (PA) admitted a five-year affair with a staff member who had locked herself in the bathroom of his apartment and called 911 saying he tried to choke her. No charges were filed, but she later sued and won a non-disclosed settlement. The GOP leadership supported Sherman for re-election and so did Rick Santorum, who made a robo-call on his behalf.

2007 brought us Larry Craig (ID) and the bathroom toe tapping at the airport (considered a sign of solicitation for anonymous same-sex encounters) and Joseph McDade (PA), accused of flashing two women on a Florida beach in front of several eye witnesses. He reportedly fondled himself as he followed one.

In 2010, Congress member Mark Jackson (IN) admitted to having an extra-marital affair with a married woman hired to prepare weekly audio tapes of Rep. Jackson’s views on family values. When he resigned from Congress, he said in his statement, “I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff.”

An earlier post I wrote on Rep. Scott Desjarlais (TN) covers Congress’ biggest stud: a doctor who had multiple affairs with hospital staff and even patients. An anti-abortion politician whose wife had an abortion as a result of his affairs.

Rand Paul is silent against the long-trending epidemic of inappropriate forms of sexual contact that plague his party. At the state and local levels, it often involves children. For safety’s sake, I omitted the stories and facts.

In fact, the Speaker, John Boehner, first won his seat after he beat Rep. Buz Lukens in a Republican primary. Lukens had been found guilty of paying a 16-year-old $40 for sex, and refused to resign from his Congress.

And of course, by Rand Paul’s own words, he’s open to cyber-stalking and sexual violence against gays and undocumented residents; this violence is okay—since it caused him to vote “no”.

But Rand Paul, who offers Hillary fake concern that doesn’t jibe with his politics or actions, gives a second reason for opposing VAWA and bringing his policy bona fides into question. Again, in his own words: “mandatory arrest laws can actually aggravate further domestic violence.” Continue reading Rand Paul’s Vicarious Politics

The Strength of the Union

DDIn last night’s State of the Union speech, Machiavelli and modern video would both have embraced the hope and pain, and the courage, in the eyes of a mother and wife desperate to save her new family home after working all her life and losing her job; her clap tapped out a determination of her resolute strength. The video framed the misty-eyed look of thankfulness of a mother whose surgery was insured just days before her emergency, and the proud shoulders of a business owner who stood because he raised his employee’s wages. It captured the deer-in-the-headlights group grimace of the Republican Caucus, embarrassed and sullen, when called out for “stale arguments” and 47 votes to repeal health care.

These images deeply touched hearts and souls—and revealed our political divide. Large and small, the pictures were unvarnished snapshots of our republic, its pain and promise.

Among this tangle of images, the President’s words found the ridge line, the high ground on either side of the valleys, that long, undulating strip that unites and traverses both; the difficult terrain that any hiker of ridge lines knows, though politicians often seem to miss its trail markers.

The President’s lofty words weren’t the cause of the applause. The noisy agreement came from his presentation of irrefutable examples and facts and the vision of his ideas—his presentation of the solid record of his successes we so rarely hear from him. His speech connected how policy and politics touch the lives of our neighbors and friends. He triumphantly defied Republicans to show how eliminating “big government” would save the small things that government provides that aid in bringing about success.

The alteration of small and large has led to higher graduation rates, 8 million new jobs, ending war, and moving the country toward self-sufficiency in energy.

The mention of a key three—a barkeep’s son, a factory worker’s daughter, a single mother’s son—offered another set of personal stories to show the length and breath of American opportunity. The inclusion of the barkeep’s son reminded us of the President’s graciousness—and Machiavelli’s axiom. Continue reading The Strength of the Union