Our President and Language

March 4, 2017

Understanding our President seems to involve using a great deal of thought and consideration.  Where we are used to political language, Mr. Trump gives us something quite different.   Something very much like understanding very bad fiction.

This morning he went on Twitter to accuse President Obama of tapping his “wires” at Trump Tower.


Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

Wires tapped is a strange phrase.  Reminds me of Sen. Stevens reference to the internet as having pipes. I am used to strange phrases coming from this President’s mouth.  It is how I keep track of whether he is saying something directly from his own mind or is reading ghostwritten lines.  His own thoughts always contain at least one very strange phrase.  Usually either cast in the third person or inverted is some way.  This, however, is not my problem today.

It is the final statement that I find so interesting.  I know something about Mr. McCarthy, assuming he is talking about the Senator from Wisconsin. But Joe never bothered to collect evidence, never needed to tap a phone, even had he been able to do that.  He simply made stuff up to suit the moment.  He created “fake news” to borrow a phrase.

I propose that perhaps the President is telling us that his tweet is what is McCarthyism.  Perhaps he is more honest than we give him credit for being.  Perhaps this is what he has been doing all along.

The FBI is political: that is how I will make it in my administration.

The IRS is political: it will be under Trump.

Crooked Hillary: all pols are corrupt and he will show them how it is actually done.

I recognize this approach from the way Bill Clinton used to say things.  “I did not have sex  with that woman (pause) Miss Lewinski.  Did he connect the two parts of that sentence into one?  Or was it two separate statements, unconnected in his mind.  Each valid, but unrelated?


Articles of Confederation

September 28, 2013

Finally, someone mentions The Articles of Confederation as a precedent for our current political scrum. Maine’s Independent Senator Angus King quotes a former history professor: the mess of “The Articles” is the only incident close to what is currently happening, with one group arguing for a weak central government. Sounds familiar. Props to King, his professor, and Up with Steve Kornacki.


Original Intent and the Shame of My Generation

July 19, 2013

I was born in 1955, a tail end member of the baby boom. Too young to enjoy the sixties, too old not to have been inspired by them. Recent events have caused me to question that generation. I am not that much younger than the Antonin Scalia crowd, with their “original intent” delusions. I am not so old that I am not more at ease with the younger generation’s genuine presumptions of racial and sexual meaninglessness. I am delighted to realize I finally voted for the exact man I wanted to be my President.

I would like to explore the notion of original intent. Having read a great deal about our founding, I do think that I generally have an understanding of our so called founding fathers. I have written about the importance of remembering we got it wrong with the Articles of Confederation. And important to remember we fixed that! Important because the current political divide is the same argument that occurred after it became obvious that the Articles were not working. It is important to remember that the ancestors of the current conservatives were represented at that convention, and ultimately agreed to have a stronger central government. They lost the battle for a confederation of States, losing a second time in the Civil War. Fighting the battle again today is simply absurd.

The original intent of our judicial system was to maximize justice! It was to protect minority rights, while maintaining a democratic–majority rule–system. Current advocates of “original intent” seems to mean that we didn’t intend to have our current system of government. We did. I do.

I am personally much further to the left than is currently represented in our government–but I am completely accepting of that system. Largely because I have yet to see a government that more closely represents my views that comes close to delivering the justice our original intent. It has worked over time. Not without problems, but never problems we couldn’t overcome.

I can live with the injustice of the recent case in Florida if I believed he was found innocent according to the original intent of our forebearers.  But I don’t believe that: we have lost our way. We are confused about justice, about race, and about the right to bear arms. I am hopeful that this confusion will pass with time. I am having trouble waiting.


What is an amendment?

May 5, 2013

I am a bit tired of the loose talk about the Second Amendment. Senator Ted Cruz has declared his intent to fight any laws that threaten our Second Amendment rights. What could this mean? The second amendment is part of the constitution. Any law limiting it would be unconstitutional by definition. The idea that you would prevent discussion, the literal point of filibuster, of a laws unconstitutionality is strange at best. What he wants to prevent is a discussion of his unreasonable view about the Second Amendment.
Of course, this is said by someone who continues to declare that life begins at conception. Life only began once, conception only continues it. A fertilized egg is not more alive than it was prior to being fertilized.


Voter ID

March 3, 2013

How should we address the anti-democratic moves involving the requirement of voter IDs?
One way would be to join the battle.
Being old enough to remember being required to register for the draft, I would be fine with universal registration of 18 year old citizens. I would be fine with giving everyone over 18 five years to register.
Step two would be to require everyone to vote at least one time out of three. There would be an option on the ballot to vote none of the above for those who strongly don’t want to make a false choice. I would also make it easier for minority parties to both exist and cross endorse candidates. Thus if I wish to form a party to run local candidates, I can endorse major party (or other minor ones) for those races in which this party does not field candidates (or not). The system inNew York does something like this.
Step three would be to make elections easier to vote. Longer periods of voting, including over weekends, and expanded voting options ( I.e., Internet and nontraditional outlets, say where you can buy a fishing license or a lottery ticket) should be explored. Washington state and Oregon have some of this, I believe.
Create a truly non-partisan group to apportion voting. Perhaps even let the voters to select one. This group would only need to be diverse, truly diverse, to be valuable.


Creative Destruction for Goldman Sachs

March 14, 2012

cMust read: Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs

Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has written a stinging indictment of the “culture” at Goldman Sachs. Refusing to learn any lessons from the recent derivatives crash, Goldman continues to think about its own profits rather than making money for its customers. This should be a wake up call for any of these customers who are in denial about Goldman’s “interests.”

Once again this represents a deep misunderstanding of “capitalist reality” by so-called capitalists. Where previously the error was in misunderstanding “spread the risk” to mean “give everyone a big piece of risk,” now the twisting of the old saw “what is good for General Motors is good for America” into “what is good for Goldman …” is based on the mistaken notion that the two companies stand for the same thing. Now, I don’t actually believe the first claim to be actually fully true, but I will take the intentions of that group of General Motors managers over that described by Smith at Goldman. When Adam Smith spoke of “self-interest” he did not mean “selfish interest.” See here. The recent government support for the auto industry has shown us how much larger “auto interests” are than just the companies themselves. “General Motors” in this sense includes the UAW. It includes the middle class jobs that result in retail sales, housing sales, state and federal tax revenue, et al. Virtual circles of capitalism. The Goldman approach only creates business cycles in which only Goldman appears to win short-term. Profit, profit, profit! forgets the word has other meanings. Profit from your mistakes means learning not gaming the system.

The Cluetrain Manifesto taught us that “markets are conversations.” I hope this is the beginning of a larger conversation that results in a market correction for Goldman. There can after all be an upside to “creative destruction” after all!


Reflections on coverage of Super Tuesday

March 9, 2012

There seemed to be genuine confusion this week about the fact that “Super Tuesday” did not resolve the Republican Presidential race. History, we are told, tells us that this is usually not the case. As I have said before, history tells us nothing–it has no mouth. History is, or at least should be, a perspective rather than a series of answers. That perspective also tells us that the candidates are different, and indeed so is “Super Tuesday.” Far fewer states took to the polls. This alone should stop us from declaiming historical facts about this political season.
Of course much time is given to discussing these mitigating facts. It just seems like they don’t listen to their own discussion. They can discuss the lack of parallels between the Obama/Clinton primary and the current one, but they then ignore that to ask why this is so different. Might it not be the same? It is of course never the same. Even when historians talk of cycles they speak of broad tendencies not exact patterns. The human brain is attracted to patterns. This should not be confused with their existence or helpfulness. This is not to say that we should deny or ignore our brains. We just shouldn’t take them quite as seriously as we do.
History should represent a approach toward understanding: Dilthey’s “verstehen.” This means not just positive assertions about patterns, but negative assertions about such patterns. Noting the exceptions is just as important as pointing out general trends. I often hear this practiced in general discussion, but almost never when attempting to create historical perspective. Why? Perhaps because we teach history is such a horrid and misleading manner. History is not a Jack Webb “just the facts” subject.
In this primary it doesn’t help to have a professional historian spouting so many anti-historical “truths.” I understand the Newt’s degree is not in American history, but still. Too much of what he says is just plain wrong. To the degree he has historical understanding, he refuses to let us in on it. But then almost all of his writing on American history literally is fiction. What-if historical fiction is a legitimate book category, it just isn’t helpful in advancing the cause of historical understanding. Its relationship to Jack Webb is more that he was an actor than a concern with the facts.