When it comes down to it, you’re not on your own

[NPR] Debbie Baker thought she qualified for a federal program that helps teachers such as her, as well as nurses, police officers, librarians and others. The Department of Education program forgives their federal student loans if they make their payments for 10 years and work in public service.

But it turns out that her $76,000 in student loans didn’t get forgiven. Baker was finally told she was in the wrong type of loan. If she’d known that at the beginning, she could have switched loans and ended up qualifying. But she says nobody ever told her.

The tough message is that no one is in your corner but you. There are many who want to help you but they can do only so much. The bottom line is, in the jungle of politics, government programs, health, career, taxes and survival, one must be responsible for one’s self – but not by one’s self! This is especially true in these times of confusion and change.

It used to be if a person had a good physician and at least knew of a lawyer, the person’s interaction with society was manageable. Today, of course, a person requires specialists for dozens of relationships with society; most of these relationships are not petty and can have an impact on finances, insurance, property and taxes – to say nothing about education and medical expenses. Even taking a vacation often requires interacting with travel agencies.

To the reader, this means two things: 1- society is like a herd of elephants; they are big, cumbersome and even if they want to help out, it’s just as likely they will crush you. 2- surviving elephants requires special knowledge; it is a sad fact that one can no longer simply visit a specialist who will guarantee one’s wellbeing. Today, one must first do homework.

  • Know very specifically what one wants to achieve. Have an idea about how the achievement will be accomplished.
  • Educate one’s self about the subject; the Internet is a marvelous place to research details. So are libraries. Particularly learn about the responsibilities of those who will help. Ideally, talk with someone who has achieved the same goal.
  • Just as Debbie made a mistake by not reading the fine print, most folks will overlook something that may be important. Fine print is everywhere today. A common error when investing is to not know the difference between a financial planner and a fund salesman. Financial planners were required by federal law to act in your best interest. Mariner said ’were’ because Donald had that rule removed early in his presidency; still, financial planners have one’s best interests at heart. Unfortunately, the larger investment firms stock up on fund salesmen; unless one is genuinely wealthy, one will not be serviced by a financial planner.
  • Use a local bank and a local attorney. Let them know they will be counted on for all actions even if circumstances require additional specialists.
  • When it comes to health insurance, it is a cutthroat business. Find neutral intermediaries to help with jargon and options. Some pharmacies offer services that will help make the best decision; there are quasigovernmental agencies (SHIIP, for example) that will help when making decisions about medical insurance. In matters of health finances, homework is required.
  • Voting is the most important civic responsibility. Shortly before voting season, write to your elected officials to request promotional literature. Mariner cannot count the number of conversations with folks who not only didn’t know much but what they did know was attributed to the wrong party.

Just on a lark mariner decided to list within one minute as many specialists as one may need when engaging society:

Banker, attorney, financial advisor, primary care physician, optometrist, dentist, automobile mechanic, heating and air conditioning technician, proficient carpenter, proficient electrician, baby sitter, public school teacher, marriage counselor, psychologist, fitness center instructor, Tai Chi instructor, real estate agent and on TV, advice for everything from Doctor Oz to movie reviews.

The point is that today one cannot go it alone and must do homework as well. Make sure the right person and the right decision occur.

REFERENCE SECTION

‘1 Million Americans Will Be Shot in the Next Decade’

Video by The Atlantic

“I see more gunshot wounds as a trauma surgeon here in the United States per week than I did when I was serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan,” says Dr. Mallory Williams, chief of the Division of Trauma and Critical Care at Howard University Hospital. “There’s no question about it.”

In a new Atlantic short documentary, American Trauma: How the NRA Sparked a Medical Rebellion, Dr. Williams and other esteemed trauma surgeons explain how the severity—and, frequently, fatality—of gunshot-related injuries has galvanized the medical community to take action against gun violence. However, in many ways, their hands are tied: In 1996, Congress passed an amendment—lobbied for by the National Rifle Association—that prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” This includes conducting government-sponsored research on the effects of gun violence.[1]

Ancient Mariner

[1] For video see: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/593707/trauma-doctors/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=video-series-atlantic-documentaries&utm_content=20190711&silverid-ref=NDkwMjIzMjA1Mjg2S0

A Seismic Shift

The United States, indeed the World, stands at the precipice of an historic change. Not just generational change; not just new electronic horizons; not just shifts in culture; not even the same climate. The United States as it has existed since the Second World War and especially since the 1980s will not exist in twenty years.

Mariner hasn’t surmised this future. It is the opinion of many intellectual and professional writers, leaders, scientists and philosophers – several with Nobel Prizes, many with Pulitzer prizes – all with concern whether we will be prepared for the seismic shift. At the moment, the US and State Governments, the oligarchical economy, the lack of plans for an economy that cares for the entire population not just the privileged, the standoff between climate change and fossil fuel economy, the dysfunctional education and job preparation institutions, and the symptomatic rise of identity isolationism all suggest the common man on the street is woefully exposed to the vagaries of change over the next twenty years.

If the citizenry is to minimize its exposure to poverty, environmental travesty and political failure, each citizen must make an effort to improve sociability in family, community and have a moral obligation to the nation and its citizens. Further, each person must educate themselves to the realities that will confront the nation over the next twenty years.

To suggest a tone for pursuit of quality understanding and insights, mariner offers three recent books that address the seismic shift. There are many more books and magazines that already provide a steady stream about the nation’s imminent future. Mariner also lists several broadcasting sources that are veritable libraries of quality discourse. Everyone must respond to the changes. Become conscious of social morality and become educated.

Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity

by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Joseph E. Stiglitz is a Nobel laureate in economics, University Professor at Columbia University, and chief economist of the Roosevelt Institute.

“The United States bills itself as the land of opportunity, a place where anyone can achieve success and a better life through hard work and determination. But the facts tell a different story—the U.S. today lags behind most other developed nations in measures of inequality and economic mobility. For decades, wages have stagnated for the majority of workers while economic gains have disproportionately gone to the top one percent. Education, housing, and health care—essential ingredients for individual success—are growing ever more expensive. Deeply rooted structural discrimination continues to hold down women and people of color, and more than one-fifth of all American children now live in poverty. These trends are on track to become even worse in the future.”

Falter

By Bill McKibben.

Bill McKibben is recognized around the world for his dedication to the environment and health of the planet. He first warned of climate change 30 years ago and says its effects are now upon us: “The idea that anybody’s going to be immune from this anywhere is untrue.”

In his latest book, Falter, McKibben broadens the potential disruption to question whether the human race is in an end game.

The Second Mountain, The Quest for a Moral Life

By David Brooks.

David Brooks is a Canadian-born American center-right political and cultural commentator who writes for The New York Times. He has worked as a film critic for The Washington Times; a reporter and later op-ed editor for The Wall Street Journal; a senior editor at The Weekly Standard from its inception; a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly; and a commentator on NPR. Brooks is currently a columnist for The New York Times and commentator on PBS NewsHour.

“This book is meant to help us all lead more meaningful lives. But it’s also a provocative social commentary. We live in a society, Brooks argues, that celebrates freedom and choice, that tells us to be true to ourselves, to march to the beat of our own drummer at the expense of surrendering to a cause, rooting ourselves in a neighborhood, and binding ourselves to others by social solidarity and love. We have taken individualism to the extreme degree—and, in the process, we have torn the social fabric in a thousand different ways. The path to repair is through making deeper commitments.”

Other Media

Mariner’s opinion is that FOX, CNN and MSNBC are low quality sources for actual and meaningful information. Instead, try perusing the CSPAN video library or keep an eye for meaningful book reviews on CSPAN-BOOKS.

Check out NEWSY, a low budget news channel with no frills, just the facts, no pundits and ongoing insightful specials about issues of the day.

Check out PBS and NPR – not just the broadcasts but peruse the websites.

Mariner has mentioned previously The Atlantic, The Economist, The New Yorker and Scientific American Magazine as solid sources for insight into the reality of these times.

Check the New York Times for new books on important subjects.

How will Citizens prepare for the rapidly rising neo-Nazi presence in democratic nations? Even the US has a nationalist, racist President.

The bottom line – in the US at least – is an individual’s vote. Like a chess move, the vote must be played with insight and an awareness of future moves. Today’s US governments clearly are inept representations of a past that no longer applies. It is the reader’s job to vote for new values and knowledgeable representatives that will help everyone survive the seismic shift.

Ancient Mariner

How someone can live your life for you

The following article from CityLab’s Kriston Capps expresses the exact fear that mariner cites continually and why he is a privacy advocate:

[CityLab] Ben Carson mentioned you: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it is charging Facebook for violating the Fair Housing Act. According to the charges, Facebook’s ad delivery system discriminated against users by screening who can see ads for housing on its marketplace listings. The site gives advertisers—including lenders, real-estate agents, and landlords—the tools to target potential buyers or renters and block others based on specific characteristics.

The charges from HUD describe how that can translate into housing discrimination. One example in the complaint says users can block people from seeing housing listings if they’re categorized as “moms of grade school kids” or “foreigners,” or if their interests include “hijab fashion” or “service animals.” “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in a statement.[1]

–> Most people are not aware that data mining corporations like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and many others already slice and dice a person’s profile and sell it to other interests. Internet users do not get offers for the better credit cards if their credit history is too low; every time someone uses a search engine, their selections are marketed and the user begins getting advertisements related to that search; does anyone receive only one seed catalogue? And on and on.

While commercial profiling is a nuisance, the HUD violation against Facebook points out the dark side: interfering in one’s private life and intimate issues like health (Insurance companies already are converting policies to require the insured to participate in electronic tracking of everything about the insured; if one didn’t jog today, their premium may increase). As mariner has mentioned many times (and readers know this), if the public isn’t stringent about privacy law, someone else will live their lives for them – saying where they can live, what they can eat, select their spouse, create their budget, limit debt ceilings, alter the cost of retail items – all without the authority and without the awareness of the individual.

Profiling data has the largest profit margin of any industry. It is inexpensive to create and generates political and economic power by suggestion. It takes no effort to slip from suggestion to manipulation by controlling the perceived reality of the individual.

Ancient Mariner

[1] CityLab’s Kriston Capps has the story: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/03/facebook-discrimination-policy-housing-ads-hud-charges/585931/?utm_campaign=citylab-daily-newsletter&utm_medium=email&silverid=%25%25RECIPIENT_ID%25%25&utm_source=newsletter

Peace by any Means

The following story copied from mariner’s newsletter from The Atlantic deserves to be distributed as widely as possible. It speaks to the joy of human compassion; it is a giant example of Pass It Forward.

Peace by Chocolate

Mar 06, 2019

For decades, Issam Hadhad ran a chocolate factory in Syria, the second-largest in the Middle East. In 2012, it was destroyed in a bombing. Hadhad and his family fled war-torn Damascus soon thereafter. After spending years in a Lebanese refugee camp, they were granted asylum in Canada. When they arrived in Nova Scotia in 2016, they had little more than the clothes on their back.

Hadhad, a chocolatier at heart, hoped to resume his profession once he was settled in his new country. But he spoke no English and had no resources. That’s when the community around him stepped in. Locals noticed Hadhad at the farmers’ market, where he sold sweets baked in his home kitchen. When they learned of his ambitions, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other skilled workers from the community rallied around Hadhad to help build a factory. The family even received a loan to kick-start the business. “I was welcomed as [if] Canada was my homeland,” Tareq Hadhad, Issam’s son, has said.

One of those friendly and solicitous locals was Frank Gallant. “Rather than viewing Issam as an outsider, Frank simply saw him as a friend going through a tough time,” Jonathan Keijser, who made a short documentary about the pair, told The Atlantic. Keijser’s film Brothers premieres on The Atlantic today. It follows Gallant and Hadhad on the latter’s first-ever camping trip. “Frank told me about how he’d been wanting to introduce Issam to some ‘real Canadian experiences,’ and mentioned how Issam had never been camping before,” Keijser recalled.

Gallant was initially skeptical about the prospect of being filmed. “He questioned what would be so interesting about following the two of them around,” Keijser said. “To Frank, the friendship that developed between [him and Hadhad] and their families was nothing out of the ordinary.”

Though Gallant and Hadhad cannot communicate fluently, the language barrier doesn’t seem to have impeded what is a palpable connection between the two men. “It was profoundly moving to witness firsthand the effortless friendship between Issam and Frank, despite their inability to speak the same language,” Keijser said. “It was clear by their interactions that they have an inherent understanding of each other—something many people search their whole lives for and still never achieve.”

Gallant frequently works alongside Hadhad in his chocolate factory, Peace by Chocolate. The company has pledged to hire 50 refugees by 2022.

– – – –

[CityLab] As AI Takes Over Jobs, Women Workers May Have the Most to Lose

Women, especially if they are Hispanic, may be at most financial risk from the automation of jobs says a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. (Sarah Holder)

– – – –

This is a blatant, unabashed promotion by mariner: His go to news channel is NEWSY (283 on DISH and available on many other outlets). The following is copied from a search engine list:

“For news networks like CNN and Fox News Channel, about 70% of the viewership is over 55. By contrast, about 70% of Newsy’s audience is 25-54, according to E.W. Scripps.”

Nevertheless, if those over 55 checked the program, they may become regular viewers.

–Straight news, no gossip, no manufactured reality. Sean Hannity would have nothing to say.

–Conversational style directly to the viewer. Chris Matthews would never make it.

–Very appropriate special interest coverage.

–Get it all: world news, US news, local news, weather – each in a crisp, two or three minute presentation.

–Newsy also offers an email newsletter covering top stories.

–Website is friendly. See: https://www.newsy.com/

Ancient Mariner

 

 

Leash Laws for America

Mariner lives in a small town. There are many children and many senior citizens. There is a fear that dogs on the loose will run in packs, defecate everywhere, bite everyone, destroy gardens and otherwise frighten the populace. Hence there are dog leash laws. Having lived in the town for years, mariner has noticed that there are very few dogs that weigh more than their leash. If one is to fear anything, it may be that feral shih tzu will roam the vastness of the town’s back yards competing with squirrels, chipmunks and birds for meager garbage. Rabbits need not be afraid.

However, when it comes to American society, our corporations, our governments and our moral liberties, nothing seems to be restrained, fair, compassionate or rational. This is because very little is on a leash. It is not dogs that are the issue; it is humans who should be on a leash. Humans quickly can pillage nature, greedily destroy balanced economies, and form angry packs not to bite but to kill and all the while, piss on everything.

Just like dogs, humans have special breeds. The Government Breed has two classes: elected and professional; the Corporate Breed also has two classes: small business and profiteer; The Intellectual Breed has two classes: ideological and technical; then there is the Mongrel Breed divided into four unequal classes: conservative-poor, conservative-rich, liberal-poor and liberal-rich. While dogs are not concerned with coloration, humans are not as mature as dogs and tend to flaunt color. As a last description, all human classes bite, form packs at the slightest provocation and are absolutely territorial.

Those who manage the leashes are called ‘the electorate’. It is the electorate’s job to attach or remove leashes to the Government, Corporate, Intellectual and Mongrel Breeds. Attaching leashes is difficult because the spirit of the founding Constitution says, in a phrase, “There are no leashes – freedom for all; guns for all; pursuit of wealth for all – oh, and women can’t vote and it takes five blacks to equal 3 blacks for the purposes of counting population to be represented in Congress.” Fortunately, the last limitations have been unleashed – not including guns which never have been on a leash.

Because the electorate has been derelict in its duties, the Breeds have decided for themselves whether to be leashed or not – in almost all cases, not. What meat is to a dog, money is to human Breeds. The Breeds have become voracious ‘carnivores,’ garnering more and more money and not letting disadvantaged Mongrels have any and just as importantly, not taking care of the human park.

It is past time for the electorate to get off its derriere and rearrange leash laws. It also is time for every government entity that has dog leash laws to provide a good dog park as well.

Ancient Mariner

Age of Corporatism

Everyone is aware that corporate money saturates the purpose of government – not the spirit of statesmanship or doing one’s share for liberty and justice for all. Al Franken, a popular Senator representing Minnesota who had to step down because of poor taste in humor about women, likely could win if he ran again. Franken said it was not worth it because the first five hours of every day were spent hustling donations from lobbyists, corporations and private donors. Party politics are tightly locked into the amount of money an elected official can raise. If a Senator or Representative can raise a goodly sum, he or she likely will be assigned to choice committees and even chairmanships. Part of the collapse of statesmanship is caused right up front by political parties operated to sustain party dominance and participation in plutocratic government, not ideological convictions.

When the Trans Pacific Partnership was promoted in 2016, mariner found himself juxtaposed. He believed in the future potential of the international consortium as a sign of the new international economy but could not support the fine print. Corporate trade representatives actually wrote the treaty; it was written so corporations did not necessarily have to abide by each nation’s civil rights, regulations or what was best for a nation’s economy. In other words, the TPP was written for the benefit of corporate trade and allowed modifications solely to maximize profit – the niceties of equality and cultural obligation are not part of the corporate ethos.

[Politico] How an EPA Official’s old firm earned millions fighting environmental rules:

“The nation’s biggest coal-burning power companies paid a top lobbying firm millions of dollars to fight a wide range of Obama-era environmental rules, documents obtained by POLITICO reveal — shortly before one of the firm’s partners became President Donald Trump’s top air pollution regulator,” POLITICO’s Zack Colman and Alex Guillén report. “Now that ex-partner, Bill Wehrum , is aggressively working to undo many of those same regulations at the EPA, where he is an assistant administrator in charge of issues including climate change, smog and power plants’ mercury pollution.”

“Wehrum’s past role as a utility lobbyist is well-known, but the documents reveal never-before-disclosed details of how extensively his old firm, formerly called Hunton & Williams, worked to coordinate the power industry’s strategy against the Obama administration’s regulations. Twenty-five power companies and six industry trade groups agreed to pay the firm a total of $8.2 million in 2017 alone, according to an internal summary prepared in June of that year — less than three months before Trump tapped Wehrum for his EPA post.”

–> Multiply this activity by thousands of lobbying firms spending billions to sway elected officials. Even worse, a large number of elected officials who leave office sign on with the same lobbying firms. One can make an assumption that there are three houses in Congress: The Senate, the House and the Lobby. This has led to an election process that allows only the most financially endowed individuals to campaign. Saying what sounds good to local voters, often these vows vanish immediately upon taking office.

There is an exceptional class of House representatives in the 2018 election. It will be interesting to see how they change under the pressures of fund raising as a first priority. Plutocracy is well-rooted today.

Another topic related to this post is the control of corporations over international investment, market and national solvency. Rational taxation of these multinational organizations does not exist.

Add corporatism to the pile of unsettling transitions in economics and cultural values that tumble around us.

  • If the percentage of citizens who vote regularly were 90% instead of 47%, corporatism would be controlled.

  • If a new set of legislative and election regulations were established to severely limit private donations, genuine community advocates could run for office; the House of Lobby would be limited to public debate instead of hidden pay-offs.

Ancient Mariner

Advocacy, a Home Activity

Today’s post is a reprint from June 14, 2015. Mariner rarely if ever has republished; a reader can always browse the categories. This post was the first in a twelve part series of posts about individual advocacy, how advocacy is an ingredient in a satisfying life and a means of bringing order to that life. He feels the subject of personal advocacy provides a healing salve for the turbulent times everyone experiences today. The series deals with the relationship between mankind and his environment, treatment of animals and pets, how he should eat, and what can a person do at home that promotes order and personal meaning.

– – – –

Standing in the Penumbra of Advocacy at Home

Penumbra is the word of the day. The mariner doubts it will be replaced by “get” or “got.” The general meaning is to stand in the shadow of something. More than just a shadow, it alludes to a shadow that doesn’t have an edge like a person’s shadow or the shadow of a building. An example may be an eclipse or, on a sunny day, standing beneath an altocumulus cloud – high enough that its shadow line is diffused by the time it reaches the ground.

The mariner will confess that penumbra is not one of his usual words. He doubts there are very few except scientists who need a word like penumbra. It is a word the mariner remembers from something he read long ago; it comes to mind whenever the word “eclipse” is mentioned.

It is the appropriate word for our thoughts about the Advocacy at Home (AH) series of posts. AH sets an advocated form of behavior; it sets standards for that behavior. AH is, in fact, a law book. It is a law book without an end.

There is no line between advocacy and no advocacy. We may have a lifestyle that involves low grade advocacy, that is, taking note of an issue and having an opinion, and then have something else catch our attention. We may have strong feelings about a subject, idea, or activity and may physically react in some way to counter the situation. But there always is advocacy; else, prejudice and accomplishment would not exist.

The mariner looks back at the brutality and stupidity of Homo sapiens referenced in AH. Humans are no different than any other animal except humans are capable of malice aforethought, destroying just to destroy, or destroying because it is easier than assuring optimum or fair conclusions. Defenders of this characteristic claim it is done in the name of progress – akin to Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest.’ Progress for whom? Perhaps not progress for humans. Malice aforethought is part genetic and part sociopathic.

Referenced in the post, Po Pouree, from letters to the editor in Scientific American, Robert E Marx responded to an article about why Neandertals became extinct (apologies for repetition of earlier posts):

“Kate Wong’s suppositions about what brought about Neandertals’ extinction in “Neandertal Minds” are contrary to the known history of anatomically modern Homo sapiens [that is, us]. Her assertions that Neandertals were just out competed and that the 1.5 to 2.1 percent Neandertal DNA within people outside of Africa is the result of occasional “dalliances” would be historically unlikely.

The most likely scenario would involve waves of immigrating anatomically modern humans taking over land and causing death by plunder and disease, as Europeans discovering the New World did. And it would be naïve to think that our Neandertal DNA was the result of consensual dalliances when rape went hand in hand with pillage of every other civilization.”

From Walt Kelly’s comic strip, Pogo, April 22, 1970.

Putting aside our treatment of other species, consider how we treat human beings – our own species.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834-1902). The historian and moralist, otherwise known simply as Lord Acton, expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

The letter was written at the end of the Victorian era when the Edwardian era was emerging and which peaked during the years of 1901 – 1910, then slowly disappearing as the First World War drew near. That was a time very similar to the United States today: a very few were incredibly wealthy and the rest of Great Britain was in a crisis.

Is it true that if the reader or the mariner were given absolute power, we would be “bad men?” At the least, would we be immoral? Would our arrogance and indifference be obvious? Vladimir Putin has absolute power. Would he be less immoral if he had no power? Assume we had absolute power over one person. Would we abuse that person? Would we, in a twisted desire for absolute power be like Phillip Garrido, who kidnapped and kept Jaycee Dugard in a backyard shed for 18 years and had two children by her? Famous studies of power over another person show that, indeed, immoral if not violent behavior will occur.

What is it about power that is so destructive?

The oldest reference to rule by law was written by the reformist King Urukagina of city-state Lagash in Mesopotamia during the 24th century BC. It consisted of a list of rules that were generally beneficial to the very poor and the labor class. The rich were curtailed in their abuses by what the mariner calls “Clintonesque restraints,” that is, in exchange for paying silver to their laborers, one could have 1,500 sheep instead of 500. Good people die young – King Urukagina was overthrown seven years later by his neighbor city-state Urek.

The reader would think, after 4,600 years, humans would have mastered the three elements of ruling by law. The three elements are power, intervention of power, and individuals. If intervention or individuals weren’t present, who would need rule of law? Perhaps the less powerful would lust after those who may be more powerful. Intervention would become battles between powerful people and individuals would become a commodity like chickens. Isn’t that called the Dark Ages (500 – 1100 AD)?

The reason for this run around Robin Hood’s barn is to highlight the similarities between AH and rule by law. We must be firm, committed and assertive in our AH laws. It is the only way to fix our dysfunctional nation.

Earlier it was mentioned that there were three elements to rule by law: power, intervention of power, and individuals. The dysfunction in the US is that it is the powerful that write the rules for intervention of power. Individuals are out of the loop. So AH is a beginning. The more individuals that create their AH rule books and enforce them, the sooner individuals may take their place in the triumvirate known as rule of law.

– – – –

To read other parts of the advocacy series type ‘advocacy’ in the search box on the Home Page.

Ancient Mariner

The Right Spirit

A bit of thrust and parry about abolishing the Senate. The idea is emerging in magazines, books and even television commentary. Mariner again will proffer why the Senate distorts public discourse – an example taken from John Dingell’s book:

California has a population of sixty million people. The bottom twenty states in population together have less people than California. Yet, those twenty states have forty senators while California has two.

This imbalance in Senate representation echoes throughout many national policies, civil rights, and contemporary issues requiring, to be fair, a national perspective larger than the constraint caused by a minority of US citizens. Most political thinkers attribute the rise of identity politics to the ability of a few Senators representing a significantly small population to block healthy, rational compromise.

The Senate’s cousin, the Electoral College, twice in recent times has elected a president who lost the popular vote.

What forces this issue to the front is the massive changes in government, economy, civil rights, technology and class discrimination that are upon us. Compared to our cultural and economic stress, the Luddites had it easy.

Turmoil among rank and file citizenry has been growing since the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 – just to name a contemporary starting point.

– – – –

Ahem. Allow mariner to straighten his tie, comb his hairs, and change the subject to one of cultural cure: It is the holiday season. For all cultural segments and religions participating in this most uplifting time of year, mariner steals lyrics yet again.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let your heart be light

From now on our troubles will be out of sight.

 

Ancient Mariner

 

2018 Observations

    Speak to a member of Donald’s base and they will say “Donald is doing exactly what we want him to do.” The populist base wanted a grenade thrown at the Establishment. It did explode and has upset the status quo to a great extent – especially in Cabinet policy. In fact, the grenade exploded so strongly that it exposed the GOP for what it is: Republican Senators living foremost for selfish reasons; Senators holding on to Reagan economics which don’t work in today’s international economy; GOP Senators are conservative tribalists rather than national statesmen. Could a blue wave wash over the Senate in 2020? Mariner believes a few new democrats may make it but not enough to overturn the GOP majority. The Senate doesn’t work correctly in today’s Government consisting of 50 states, 350 million citizens and a modern computerized society. Mariner’s observation is to abolish the Senate completely or at a minimum combine the two houses thereby making every representative subject to proportional representation. And toss out the Electoral College while we’re messing with the Constitution.

   January 2018 had bouncy temperatures ranging from below zero to days in the sixties in the Southeastern part of Iowa. El Nino is forming in the Pacific; it appears the winter jetstream will offer slightly warmer weather in January 2019 than we had last year. If one lives in the Carolinas or New England, the same jetstream won’t be so nice with increased rain, snow and energetic storms. It is a fact that one cannot predict climate change with weather forecasts over a short time. However, mariner agrees with the observation of scientists who study the Earth in geologic terms: the climate change thing already is out of the bag and will have its way with us. Even if the international community meets the requirements of the Paris agreement, the Earth is a big place and large, slow moving planetary phenomena have too much momentum for us to steer. The main worry is what will rising seas, floods and droughts do to our economy?

   According to a Senate Intelligence Committee report, Instagram “was a significant front” in Russian election meddling, eclipsing even Facebook itself. Between 2015 and 2018, there were 187 million interactions with Instagram content from the Internet Research Agency, the Russian trolling operation, compared with 77 million interactions on Facebook and 73 million on Twitter. [Bloomberg]

A popular quote is in frequent use at the moment. The quote is Ben Franklin’s response to a woman’s question about what the founders had delivered: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

A democratic republic requires constant maintenance by its citizens. This means that managing our government at Federal, State and Local levels is a necessary chore that we must continually exercise by voting (but today only 47 percent vote), attending town hall meetings and other events that provide access to our representatives, participating in political causes and party affiliations (only 12 percent of citizens participate even minimally in civic activities). This is sophisticated stuff that requires an educated understanding of citizen responsibilities (civics is not taught in public schools).

It is mariner’s observation that US citizens duck responsibility and blame Russian influence on the Russians. There’s nothing stopping any citizen from taking ownership of their democratic republic at a cultural level and at a political level. Stop blaming others a la Donald and step up to ownership of a nation. If we Americans did that, the Russian issue wouldn’t exist.

Ancient Mariner

 

Bowling and Politics

In this post mariner promotes two books. The first one is a sociological view of American behavior particularly as it relates to how Americans have changed how they socialize. The second is by a memorable US Representative from Michigan, John Dingell, who was an active liberal during his tenure – the longest of any Representative serving from 1955 to 2015.

֎ Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam, 2001, Simon and Schuster

The premise is that Americans have, as a total population, withdrawn from community activities and civic life. The popularity of TV reflects people’s desire to wind down and relax in a setting over which they have total control. Many people may feel that socializing with neighbors is taxing, while TV is in one’s home and it’s always available. The national average across all segments of the population is eight hours per day.

Add to TV the phenomenon of smartphones. Mariner has noted in past posts how the smartphone eliminates extended or serious conversations in family life. Children aren’t admonished for using the smartphone too much because the parents are busy using the smartphone too much. A Silicon Valley executive once admitted he requires all electronics to be left by the door when family members return home. Just like in the Wild West days when guns were left at the door – will both harm us?

Another distraction to interactive human life is social media. Why visit family when one can pretend to visit on Facebook?

“Putnam contends that participation in collective activities such as bowling leagues and other leisure, faith and political associations, fosters norms of reciprocity through which people develop an orientation to cooperate with and trust others. Surveys have consistently shown that members of associations tend to trust others and have more friends in the neighborhood than non-members. Such norms and networks of civic engagement constitute what sociologists have called ‘social capital’. Drawing on theoretical insights developed in his previous book Making Democracy Work, Putnam argues that social capital is important because the high levels of trust and cooperation that characterize socially and civically engaged communities are positively associated with the performance of social institutions, economic prosperity, and individuals’ wellbeing and longevity.”[ResearchGate]

Since the 1960s Americans increasingly have moved to socially and ethnically homogeneous, car-dependent suburban areas. Obviously this arrangement limits open, public discourse on matters of the day with others who may be from different social situations. This neighborhood isolation leads to false assumptions that are counterintuitive to democratic concepts, for example, “NIMBY” – not in my backyard!

֎ The Dean – The Best Seat in the House, John Dingell, 2018, HarperCollins.

John Dingell always has been known for calling a spade a spade. Speaking to the terrible shape our nation is in:

“There are many reasons for this dramatic decline: the Vietnam War, Watergate, Ronald Reagan’s folksy but popular message that government was not here to help, the Iraq War, and worst of all by far, the Trumpist mind-set. These jackasses who see “deep state” conspiracies in every part of government are a minority of a minority, yet they are now the weakest link in the chain of more than three centuries of our American republic. Ben Franklin was right. The Founders gave us a precious but fragile gift. If we do not protect it with constant vigilance, we will most certainly lose it.”

How does John suggest we restore our political ethos?

“An electoral system based on full participation. At age 18, you are automatically registered to vote. No photo ID, no residency tests, no impediments of any kind. Advances in technology can make this happen effortlessly. Yes, voting should be restricted only to American citizens. Strict protections against foreign meddling are also necessary.”

Further:

“The elimination of money in campaigns. Period. Elections, like military service—each is an example of duty, honor, and service to country—should be publicly funded. Can you imagine if we needed to rely on wealthy donors to fund the military? I know there are those who genuinely believe in privatizing everything. They are called profiteers.”

Restructuring the Federal branches of government:

“The end of minority rule in our legislative and executive branches. The Great Compromise, as it was called when it was adopted by the Constitution’s Framers, required that all states, big and small, have two senators. The idea that Rhode Island needed two U.S. senators to protect itself from being bullied by Massachusetts emerged under a system that governed only 4 million Americans.”

“Today, in a nation of more than 325 million and 37 additional states, not only is that structure antiquated, it’s downright dangerous. California has almost 40 million people, while the 20 smallest states have a combined population totaling less than that. Yet because of an 18th-century political deal, those 20 states have 40 senators, while California has just two. These sparsely populated, usually conservative states can block legislation supported by a majority of the American people. That’s just plain crazy.”

“With my own eyes, I’ve watched in horror and increasing anger as that imbalance in power has become the primary cause of our national legislative paralysis. In primaries, the vocal rump of a minority of obnoxious asses can hold the entire country hostage to extremist views. This insanity has sent true public servants fleeing for the exits. The Electoral College has the same structural flaw. Along with 337 of my colleagues, I voted in 1969 to amend the Constitution to abolish it. Twice in the past 18 years, we’ve seen the loser of the popular vote become president through the Electoral College formula, which gives that same disproportionate weight to small states, each of which gets two automatic votes for its two senators.”

There is a solution, however, that could gain immediate popular support: Abolish the Senate. At a minimum, combine the two chambers into one, and the problem will be solved. It will take a national movement, starting at the grassroots level, and will require massive organizing, strategic voting, and strong leadership over the course of a generation. But it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? “Abolish the Senate.” I’m having blue caps printed up with that slogan right now. They will be made in America.

If mariner were motivated to write a book, he would not need to – John wrote it for him.

Ancient Mariner