Monthly Archives: February 2020

Breaking the Glass Floor

 

I can only imagine what  aliens, having landed on earth on February 1, would think of America and how it picks its leaders.  First, they learned  candidates have spent a year crisscrossing two political units which account for one percent of the total delegates who will make the eventual choice at a gathering later in the year.  And they will do that in two other states the rest of the month.  Then they will have THREE days to make a case to 14 additional political units that control 40 percent of the delegates.

Then tonight they watched what could only be called a cat fight over which candidate is the least flawed.  No wonder many of the best potential candidates choose not to participate in this dumpster fire.

Based on their observations, the aliens return to their home planet and report, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, their system of picking their leader by pulling a name out of a hat is a bad way to do it, but it’s better than all the rest.  Though they heard some candidates talk about breaking a glass ceiling, the consensus opinion is the winner will be the one who survives falling through the glass floor.

It’s not like the Democratic party hasn’t tried to make it better.  The first such effort was a commission chaired by Michigan Congressman James O’Hara following the 1968 disaster at the Chicago convention.  The result.  George McGovern and the worst electoral college beating in political history.  And after each successive presidential loss the party has tweaked the system with minimal effect.

Image result for putney swopeAgain, I turn to Putney Swope who, when asked if he, as the new CEO of the advertising company at which he was hired as the token minority, would rock the boat, replied, “I’m not going to rock the boat.  I’m going to sink the whole f***ing ship.”  The time for tweaking has passed.  It’s time to start with a blank slate and put on our MARA caps (Make America Rational Again).

In this post, I will focus on two major elements of the electoral process: the primaries and candidate debates.

PRIMARIES:  First and foremost, the party should ban caucuses.  They violate every democratic principle supportive of an engaged electorate.  Second, the nation should be divided into four contiguous regions with each region consisting of states with approximately one-fourth of the total delegates.  Third, regional primaries should be held no less than 30 days apart.  Fourth, the order of the regional primaries should rotate over a sixteen year period, giving each region a chance to be “first in the nation.”

DEBATES:  While televised debates would still be distributed among the major media outlets, the networks would not choose the format, the moderators or the questions.  The first two decisions would be made by the eligible participants in each event.  The topics would be determined by an independent polling service by asking voting age residents in each region, “What are the three most important issues in the upcoming election?”  The top five answers would be selected as topics for the first debate in that region.  Each participant would be given a chance to present their plan to address each issue.  If there were multiple debates in a region, the second or third event could focus on topics further down the list.  The moderator’s sole purpose would be to ensure rules related to length of answers and questioning between candidates are enforced.

You might ask, when do candidates get a chance to air their concerns about an opponents past performance or statements.  If you look at the transcript of tonight’s debate,  questions about every candidate’s shortcomings were recitations already raised by the media.  Look at the front page of any newspaper or watch cable news.  The headlines were about medical record transparency, buying the election, questionable past statements and actions.

Let the media use their time and resources to fuel a cat fight.  The party should ensure the debates give candidates a chance to tell us how they will govern, if elected.  Bernie and Elizabeth know they have to explain why Medicare for All is not a financial disaster.  Mike knows he has to tell black voters how he will atone for negative impacts associated with stop and frisk.  The party should give them and all the other candidates that chance to make their case about the future and why it makes sense in light of any perceived inconsistencies.

If candidates want to go negative, parroting what is already being reported in newspapers and on talk shows, they have the right to do so.  But make them do it on their dime, not free media access when voters should hear about how they plan to govern, not why they are less flawed than their opponents.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

PAIRasite

 

SPOILER ALERT:  If you have not seen the Academy Award winning best picture Parasite, the following post contains references to specific scenes although I have made every attempt not to reveal the ending or major twists in the story.

Image result for parasite scenesWhen my wife and I went to see Parasite on a Valentine’s Day date, we knew the film centered on the disparity between rich and poor in modern day South Korea.  How could we not?  The flood of media attention has positioned the film as “Upstairs/Downstairs or Downton Abbey with subtitles,” exploring the relationship between two families from the polar opposites of society.

Most reviews (a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes) heaped praise on director and screenwriter Bong Joon-ho’s depiction of life at both ends of the income scale.  And it is well deserved.  The script is intelligent.  The actors melt into their roles without becoming caricatures.  The visual contrast between the Kim family’s “semi-basement” apartment (literally downstairs) and the Park family’s architectural showplace (the upstairs) reeks of economic injustice.  Introduction to these previously unknown trappings of wealth take the Kims on a fantasy tour of a better life even while they continue to serve the Parks.

As well as Bong presents his vision of Seoul’s dual society, I walked out of the theater unsatisfied.  This morning, as often is the case, my search for a counter-intuitive interpretation kicked in.  What if the narrative was not just an indictment of wealth disparity and the hopelessness of those on the lowest rungs of humanity’s ladder?  What if it was about the manner in which people respond to opportunity?

I was immediately reminded of a discussion we had during my imagination class at Miami University.  I had asked each student to think of something he or she thought was impossible.  One student, concerned he never had enough time to do everything he needed or wanted to do, suggested his problem would be solved if only he had a 25-hour day.  After exploring how one might creatively do that, I asked him, “And what would you do with that extra hour?”  His reply?  “Probably, nothing different,” proving the issue was not the amount of time but how you manage it.

The situation in which the Kim family has a chance to experience life on the other side of the tracks occurs when the Parks go on a weekend camping trip.  Left alone to partake of the accouterments of affluence and leisure, do they use this opportunity to listen to music or read books and newspapers?  Do they wander the house as if it is a museum observing the many paintings and statues the Parks have amassed?

No. Despite the availability of all this space, they huddle together around one couch and coffee table.  And they over-indulge in their employer’s liquor supply, trash the house and fight among themselves.  They might as well have been back in their semi-basement abode.  Like my student, the Kims do not use their 48 hours free of need or want to examine how they would carry on their lives if the situation was reversed, if Mr. Kim was “Lord Crawley” and the Parks were the butler and servants.

Which brings me to the other “fairy tale” which was nominated for best picture this year, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”  Re-imagine the above scene.  The Kims, sitting around that coffee table, reflect on how they felt watching Mr. Kim shower his family with presents while people like themselves live in squalor and lack necessities.  “If only we had their money, we would not waste it on more decadent possessions for outselves.  We would create a world where there would be no need for parasites, like us.”

But just as we know there was no handsome stuntman who ensures Sharon Tate and her unborn child live happily ever after, we know it is more than likely the Kims would become more like the Parks than the other way around.  I doubt that is the morale of the story Bong wished to convey.  But intentional or not, Bong’s cinematic triumph is a tale of two tragedies.  The first being economic injustice. The second being the disconnect between aspirations and actions.  Both lessons are powerful and go hand-in-hand.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The TwiWhite Zone

 

The following is a parody of a 1959 episode (Season 03/Episode 24) of The Twilight Zone titled, “To Serve Man.”*

ROD SERLING

You’re traveling through another dimension–a dimension not only where many chose not to see or hear, a dimension of the mindless, a journey into a dysfunctional land whose boundaries are shattered by the warped imagination of Donald Trump.  Your next stop, the TwiWhite Zone.

[Theme Music]

MR. CHAMBERS:

We were preoccupied with the hands on a clock when we should have been checking off a calendar.  It was June 2015, and it was noon then, too.  And people walked and drove and bought and sold and fretted and laughed.  The world went on much as it had been going on with a tentative tiptoeing along a precipice of crisis  There was North Korea, Iran and Syria and the other myriad problems, major and minor that somehow had lost their incisive edge of horror because we were so familiar with them.

And then that is when it happened.  That’s when we first heard he had come.  That’s when we should have prepared ourselves for any eventuality, but we didn’t.  Instead, we milled around like frightened farm animals looking for father images.  At noon, today, eastern daylight time, the landing took place in the lobby of Trump Tower.

[THE ALIEN TAKES THE STAGE]

THE ALIEN (Donald Trump):

(SPEAKING IN THE THIRD PERSON) What is the motive of this man, offering such great gifts to the people of the United States?  I hope the American people will understand and believe when I tell you that my mission is simply this:  To bring to you the piece (sic) and plenty which I enjoy.  When you have no more hunger, no more war, no more needless suffering, that will be my reward.

MR. CHAMBERS:

And Santa Claus came through.  The deserts became golf courses and the wall ended immigration.

And one year later, women stand in line waiting for the tram that will take them to the spa at one of the Mar-a-Lago or Doral franchises which now dot the landscape.  They react as if this were a weekend picnic in the country.  Nothing fazes them.

[LOOKS DOWN AT A CODED BOOK]

Image result for encoded book

I’m still working on that book.  Deciphering the title has been of no help because the capital letters are different from the other signs, just as ours are.  But it’s starting to fall into place.

[ONE YEAR LATER]

I gave up trying a month ago.  My wife has been begging me to give her a Trump spa vacation for her birthday.  I’m not sure I can resist much longer.

[TRAM STATION.  CHAMBERS WATCHES AS HIS WIFE BOARDS]

A COLLEAGUE:

Mr. Chambers!  Mr. Chambers!  Don’t let her get on that tram!  The rest of the book, “Women for Trump,” it’s not about campaign strategy, it’s one of Jeffrey Epstein’s day planners.

[FADE OUT]

SERLING:

How about you?  Is your wife or girlfriend at home or has she boarded the tram to oblivion?  It doesn’t make much difference because sooner or later, they’ll all be in the book–all of them, a footnote in a day planner.  It’s tonight’s book club selection in The TwiWhite Zone.

*Original screenplay by Rod Serling, based on a story by Damon Knight.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Un-Front and Un-Centered

 

NOTE:  Sometimes you have to admit when you have been scooped.  While preparing the next installment in the series “The Case for…”, a Google search provided several articles based on the same concept, the best being Ezra Klein’s series at Vox.com.  And when many posited similar conclusions about the assets each major candidates brings to the race, it was time to cry “uncle.”  Deprogramming101 is about finding the “other” story or pointing out what the mainstream media has missed.  And I could not make a “case for…” that.

The headlines are almost laughable.  “Bernie Sanders is now the front-runner and moderates may be too divided to stop him.” (NBC New)  “Bernie Sanders is the front-runner.  Now, treat him like it.” (New York Daily News)  No!  Secretariat in the home stretch at Belmont Park is a front-runner.  Neither Sanders nor anyone else is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and won’t be until March 3rd, otherwise known as Super Tuesday when 40 percent of pledged delegates are chosen.

FACT #1:  To secure the Democratic nomination for president, the winning candidate must arrive at the Milwaukee convention with 1,886 pledged delegates.  As of this morning, Sanders has 21 locked up.

FACT #2:  Sanders is in second place when it comes to the current delegate count.  By virtue of his surprise showings in both the Iowa caucuses (we think) and the New Hampshire primary, Pete Buttigieg leads by one with 22 delegates.

FACT #3: Five candidates surpassed the 15 percent “viability” threshold in one or both of the first two nomination contests–Sanders, Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden.  The total among the three “moderate” candidates is 35 compared to 29 for the two “progressive” candidates.

FACT #4:  When you look at the results from the New Hampshire primary among these same five candidates, you get a similar picture.  Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Biden received 53.9 percent of the votes cast on Tuesday.  Sanders and Warren picked up a total of 34.9 percent.

FACT #5:  In 2016, Sanders won 60.14 percent of the primary vote against Hillary Clinton and 16 delegates.  He was less successful in 2020 with 25.7 percent and 9 delegates.

FACT #6:  Despite a few write-ins, neither Iowa or New Hampshire provide any clue whether Michael Bloomberg’s decision to by-pass contests in the first four states will pay off for him.

FACT #7: Donald Trump, facing nominal competition in the Republican primary, urged his lemmings to mess with the Democrat primary by voting for the weakest potential opponent.  Though he did not name names, on numerous occasions, the Trump campaign indicated it relishes the opportunity to run against a self-proclaimed “socialist.”

Exit polling in New Hampshire provides additional insight to why any candidate cannot be considered THE front-runner in mid-February.  Again, it is helpful to look at the aggregate totals for candidates in the so-called moderate and progressive lanes.

MEN: 49 to 38 percent in favor of moderate candidates.  Equally important, men made up only 43 percent of New Hampshire Democratic voters.

WOMEN:  Accounting for 57 percent of all votes, women went 51 to 33 percent for moderates.

AGE:  A clear 52 to 31 advantage for progressives among voters 18-29 years of age.  But, they only cast 13 percent of the total ballots.  In contrast, among Democrats 45-64 year old (39 percent of all voters), moderates out-polled progressives 59-29 percent.  Similarly, for the 65+ cohort (26 percent of the total vote), moderates won by a margin of 67-24 percent.

EDUCATION:  Among college graduates (54 percent of voters), moderates led 56-35 percent.  Among voters with no college degree (46 percent of voters), moderates still win by a narrower margin of 44-37 percent.

IDEOLOGY:  As one would expect, voters who identified themselves as “very liberal” (21 percent of the total vote), preferred Sanders and Warren by 65-30 percent.  Yet, voters who self-identified as “somewhat liberal”(40 percent of all voters) supported moderates by 55-36 percent.

UNION HOUSEHOLDS:  Voters from union households (16 percent of voters) preferred moderates 57-37.  Non-union voters (84 percent of voters) also cast a majority of their ballots for moderate candidates by 51-36 percent.

Why does this matter?  Two reasons.  First, it is the political equivalent of the Discovery Channel program “MythBusters.”

  • The 2018 mid-term “Blue Wave” was due largely to high turnout among female voters.  Progressive candidates did not perform well among this critical demographic.
  • The Sanders campaign was supposedly fueled by the “children’s crusade” because of his ability to attract new, younger voters.  Voting among 18-29 year olds DECLINED by six percentage points (19-13) compared to 2016.
  • Sanders touted his huge crowds for rallies held on college campuses.  If New Hampshire voters are any indication, this was more about age than educational level.
  • While progressive candidates have a lock on the segment of the party considered “very liberal,” it represents only one in five primary voters.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise was the inability of progressives to carry voters from union households.

Which brings me to the second and most important reason why no candidate, especially Bernie Sanders, can lay claim to front-runner status.  To be consistent, rational political pundits must apply the same logic to the race for the Democratic nomination they do to the general election.  You cannot say Trump, despite 93 percent approval among the declining number of registered Republicans (actually Trump cultists), has a lock on re-election.  And then suggest Sanders will be hard to stop when he too has an equally avid following among a small subset of the total Democratic electorate.

One of two scenarios will play out.  In the first scenario, one of the moderates will break out from the pack and moderate support will consolidate behind that candidate. Bernie Sanders cannot win the nomination with the most rabid voters if they represent between 35 to 40 percent of the party faithful.

Image result for rube goldbergScenario #2 depends on two or more moderates remaining competitive throughout primary season, in which case no one comes to Milwaukee with the required majority of delegates.  And here is where it gets really complicated thanks to the Rube Goldberg mentality which guided DNC reforms to the nomination process following the over-weighted influence of super-delegates (elected officials and party leadership) in 2016.  I hope you are sitting down.

  • If a candidate wins between 1,886 and 2,267 pledged delegates by virtue of state primaries and caucuses, super-delegates are barred from voting on the first ballot as not to overturn the will of the voters.
  • If that candidate wins more than 2,267, super-delegates are allowed to vote on the first ballot because their vote is meaningless.
  • If no candidate wins 1,886 at the end of primary season, the result is a contested convention at which super-delegates regain their right to vote on the second and all further ballots.  The eventual winner will need a majority of all delegates which raises the victory threshold to 2,267.

If 2016 provided any insight, the overwhelming majority of super-delegates also fall in the moderate category which assures Sanders would not walk away from a brokered convention with the nomination.  Though he might influence which of the remaining moderates carry the day.

Unlike Donald Trump, I do learn from my mistakes.  And I refuse to be scooped again by hesitating to go out on a limb until I am more confident in my speculation.  So, here goes.  Scenario #3 is a brokered convention at which none of the previous candidates is viewed as the “uniter” who can bring together the moderate and progressive wings of the party.  
The search begins to find an alternative who has the best chance of both reconciling intra-party differences and more importantly defeating Trump.

There is one logical choice.  Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.  No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio.  So, the answer to the question, “How do you assure Trump loses?” is to nominate the only Democrat who has constantly demonstrated he can turn Ohio blue.  Brown first won his Senate seat in 2006 by defeating incumbent Mike DeWine by 12 percentage points (56-44).  Yes, Mike DeWine, the current Ohio governor.  In two successful races for re-election he won by six or more percentage points and did better on election day than predicted in the polls.

As for uniting the party, Brown has aligned with Sanders on many policy issues yet endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016.  In May, 2017, Washington Monthly reporter D. R. Tucker wrote the following about Brown as a potential 2020 Trump opponent.

He may not run. He may decide that pursuing justice is a more worthwhile goal in the Senate. However, if he runs, Brown might be able to bring “establishment” and “progressive” Democrats together at the same time the Republican Party falls apart.

Tucker was correct.  In March 2019, Brown announced he would not run for president.  But he said something similar in August 2005 when he passed up a chance to challenge two-term incumbent Republican Senator DeWine.  But when his party called, he changed his mind and the rest is history.

Conclusion?  Data from exit polling tells us the noise on Twitter is exactly that.  The majority of Democrats are in the center or just to the left of center.  The only thing that is un-centered is media coverage of the nomination process.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The Case for God

This is the first in a series of posts with the title “The Case for …”  In the coming days, they will focus on the remaining candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.  However, there is one other figure, central to political dialogue in 2020, who deserves our attention.  And this week, he or she made the best case for staying in the race.

As a devout agnostic of Jewish heritage, I am probably the least qualified individual to make this case, but comedian Lewis Black, a kindred agnostic raised in a Jewish household, provides the cover I need based on a 2006 performance at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C.  One segment focused on differences between the Old and New Testaments.

Every Sunday I turn on the television set.  And there is a priest or a pastor reading from my book.  And interpreting it.  And their interpretations, I must tell you, are usually wrong.  It’s not their fault, it’s not their book.  You never see a rabbi on TV interpreting the New Testament, do you?  If you want to truly understand the Old Testament, if there is something you don’t get, there are Jews who walk among you, and they, I promise you this, will take time out of their very Jewy, Jewy day and will interpret for you, anything you are having trouble understanding.  And will do that, of course, if the price is right.

Never in the history of civilization was the chasm between the faithful and the heretic more apparent than the 24 hours beginning at 2:00 p.m EST on Wednesday.  At that hour, Utah Senator Mitt Romney explained why he had no choice but to vote guilty on the first article of impeachment against Donald Trump.

But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.

Image result for arthur c brooksThe next morning Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast following the keynote by Arthur C. Brooks, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, who used the gospel of the New Testament to promote reconciliation post-impeachment as follows.

To start us on a path of new thinking to our cultural crisis, I want to turn to the words of the ultimate original thinker, history’s greatest social entrepreneur, and as a Catholic, my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus. Here’s what he said, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43-45: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Trump was moved by Brooks’ rhetoric and apologized for his role in promoting division and offered his hand to Nancy Pelosi who was also seated on the dais.  I’m kidding, of course.  Trump began his remarks by stating,  “Arthur, I don’t think I agree with you.”  He went on to vilify those who dared challenge his authority and mocked their faith.  As Joe Scarborough, a born-again Baptist evangelical, pointed out Thursday morning, Trump did not disagree with Arthur Brook.  He contradicted the words of Jesus Christ.  And pseudo-religious leaders such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. refused to call him out, one more stain on the white evangelical movement.

The case for God exists partially due to Jean Paul Sartre and the existential movement.  In that vein of thought, the shape or form of something is not as important as the concept.  For example, there are an infinite number of ways to design and manufacture a chair.  But the concept of the chair is universal.

As has been true throughout ancient and modern history, it is the dissidents of all faiths who have relied on the concept of God, not the specific literary manifestation or name given to the deity.  One can argue, among agnostics and atheists, there is also a higher calling which we prefer to call conscience or ‘the still small voice.”  Or simply our obligation to fellow humans. Ironically, it was Mitt Romney who best articulated why the rewards of heaven and eternal life, for us, are unnecessary.  The respect of family and our place in history are enough reward.

The concept of God has also forced us to continuously reassess societal norms, proving there is no absolute divine will, but a call to evolve philosophically as well as physically. The Jewish traditional of questioning faith is introduced in Genesis 32:28, when a holy surrogate tells Jacob, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and humans and have overcome.”  Without the option of challenging the “word of God,” there would be no New Testament or Book of Mormon or even the Koran.

The God of the Old Testament ruled by fear.  The text, particularly Leviticus, is a laundry list of taboos for which you will be punished.  The same is true of the ten commandments.  With the exception of honoring one’s parents and the Sabbath, all the others begin, “Thou shall not…”  The God of the Old Testament is willing to kill thousands of children because of the stubbornness of one person, Pharaoh.  But as Lewis Black suggests, maybe this was necessary at the time.  In the beginning of recorded history, members of ancient society were “just one hair short of being orangutans.”

Fifteen hundred years later, civilization was open to a new morale code.  One based on “thou shall” as opposed to “thou shall not.”  Maybe this might have happened without the emergence of a divine savior.  But if  belief in an omnipotent being gave Jesus the strength to defy authority knowing the personal risk involved, so be it.

That is the beauty of the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion.  It does not matter if you are moved by someone who walked the earth thousands of years ago or another leader who settled in Utah in the 1800s.  Or if the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.  The common trait among the righteous, spiritual or sectarian, is the willingness to look outside oneself for truth.  If the concept of God floats your kite, I wish you steady winds and enough line to soar as high as you can.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP