Monday, June 5, 2017

Kushner, Trump, the Russians, Why it Matters?

So, did Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, have a clandestine meeting with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, as well as a Russian Banker?  Why does it matter if he did?

Here’s a good reason: It matters because truth matters, integrity matters, morality matters, justice matters, trust matters, loyalty matters—especially in the exercise of POWER.

Question: Is there a moral backdrop to life?  Is there a higher authority to which we must answer to?

Who or what governs one’s heart?  Who or what rules one’s life?  To whom should one give answer to, respecting one’s actions and motives?  What is the measure of one’s integrity, morality, or ethics?

News Reporters are determined to get to the bottom of this Russian Thing.  Why?  Because, it is assumed that truth matters; and so do loyalty, integrity, and trust matter.  Note that these are moral issues.

Yet, we have apparently elected a president for which truth and reality, along with morality and integrity, does not seem to matter as much—or only so in a relative sense; which is quite fitting for a culture within which moral assertions are now, more often than not, said to be a matter of opinion and therefore merely private and personal.

On the other hand, for you relativists out there, if truth is relative (including ethics and morality), then President Trump need not answer to his actions—to anyone, not even us.  For, if morality is a matter of personal and private opinion, there is no place for giving account and Trump need not justify his words or deeds, personal or public—which he often does not bother to do anyway.

The irony is that this has always been considered one of the greatest responsibilities of a free press: to get to the truth of the matter.  But now, in an age of Relativism, certain sectors of the public are outraged when the Press constantly seeks to know.  Yes, the press operates on the assumption that there is indeed a moral backdrop to our universe, with moral absolutes—that is to say that our actions and words are expected to line up with that which is real and true, right and good.

So, for example, when News Reporters question Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, and/or questions other White House spokespersons, pressing for more info and clarification as to the Presidents words and actions, their line of questioning presumes that motive and purpose make a difference as to how an action is to be substantively interpreted—for good or for bad.

So, is there virtue?  Are there ethical norms by which we live?  And should we hold our elected leaders to these ethical standards?  In short, are there moral boundaries or ethical lines that must not be crossed?  If so, then it matters whether Kushner, Trump, and/or anyone else in the presidential office, had clandestine meetings with the Russians.  And so we must find out why, and to what end or purpose.

In other words, it is not enough to know what IS; we also need to know what IS, within a moral context of what should or OUGHT to be.  Thus, we need to know what IS as measured by motive, for we presume that there are good and that there are bad intentions.

This is why Trump’s administration’s refusal to give answer to the many mounting questions that are arising from the Russian Investigation, among other things, is or should be very disturbing.  In actuality, most of us, if not all of us, believe that there ARE lines that must not be crossed, boundaries that must be maintained, and rules that must be adhered to.  Thus, to evade accountability is tantamount to admitting that the boundaries have not been maintained with integrity—vis-à-vis, they’re hiding something!

And so, investigations and good solid news reporting matter.  We therefore must not so easily dismiss or disregard Presidential statements or actions that even only appear to sidestep the light of scrutiny let alone outright smack of actual deceit and/or falsehood—unless of course we actually do buy into a reality where truth, goodness, and trustworthiness, are in fact relative, and that these virtues are only a matter of personal and private opinion.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Trump Push

Trump’s attitude, tone, posturing, and verbiage often come across as arrogant, boastful, and self-gratulatory.

So, when Trump bullied his way to the front of NATO leaders by pushing aside Dusko Markovic, the prime minister of Montenegro, that said it all.

Did you see it?

Did you see Trump’s face?  Did you notice his posture and catch his dismissiveness of Mr. Markovic?

Some Americans liked what they saw; thinking that that was a great way for Trump to show his commitment to “Put America First!”

And that is so very, very sad.

Why?

Do you believe in “Karma” or do you believe in “What goes around comes around” or the idea that “For every action there is always an equal and opposing reaction”?

In other words, as you already know, anger breeds anger, hate breeds hate, and so-on and so-forth.  That is to say that Trump’s presumptuous attitude, coupled with his arrogant actions, will have its equal and opposing reactions—and it won’t be nice.

If you’re familiar with the Biblical book of Proverbs, two verses come to mind, Proverbs chapter 16 verse 5 and verse18.  Verse 5 says, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”  And verse 18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  (NIV)

“America First,” Trump says.  “Make America Great Again,” Trump asserts.  And many Americans with pride in the hearts, arrogance in their tone, and Triumphalism in their spirits, resound with a “Hoorah!  Make it so!!  Let’s do this!!”

So, we have elected a president who, acting in our behalf, acts proudly, arrogantly, and even insultingly toward others, as a way of representing us, the people of the United States of America.

Thus, if the Biblical statements of Proverbs chapter 16 verses 5 and 8 are true, I wonder: How can we say “God Bless America!” expecting God to do so, when God clearly condemns proud, haughty, and arrogant people?

Be kind, considerate, generous, and respectful, mind your manners, be polite, don’t shove and push, wait your turn; and don’t boast and brag or be conceited.  These were the social rules, the “how to behave yourself” rules, that previous generations of Americans were taught and were brought up with.  Whether you were old or young, high or low, rich or poor, these were the norms of expected behavior within our social interactions.  And we are losing them. 

And with their loss we are fast becoming a small self-inflated people, curt and contentious, belligerent and bellicose, pompous and petulant, pretentious and plebian in manner.  Indeed, in the person of President Trump, it seems that he is the best representative for us at this time, if this is truly the kind of people we are becoming.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Who’s Reality, Which Reality?

It’s a question of Reality.  What is real, true, good, right, and/or just?

Facts are facts.  It’s been said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.  So true.

But facts must be interpreted and are done so according to context, perspective, and more importantly, Worldview.  In other words, individual facts make no sense to us, unless or until they are connected in a meaningful way, like putting together pieces of a puzzle to make a picture or connecting the dots to form a meaningful shape or image.

As you know, it is much easier to put the pieces of a puzzle together if you have the picture in front of you, especially if there are a large number of pieces to the puzzle, like 500 or more.

What the individual pieces of a puzzle are, to its picture; facts are to a Worldview.

A Worldview is a comprehensive conception of the world.  It is an understanding of how the world operates.  Thus, a Worldview serves as the interpretive mechanism for one’s Truth, fitting information into an understood picture of Reality.  So, a Worldview makes sense and provides meaning to any given set of facts—objects, subjects, events, actions, etcetera—in one’s world.

For example, as a matter of fact, a man dies only a few hours after eating a chicken dinner.  In one culture’s Worldview it may be a case of salmonella poisoning; the chicken was bad.  In another culture’s Worldview, the man died because a witchdoctor may have placed a curse on the man for failing to honor a pledge.  And yet, in another culture’s Worldview, the man died because the god’s were angry with him for breaking a ritual taboo.  That is, this one fact, a man dies after eating a chicken dinner, now has three different interpreted meanings to it, according to three different Worldviews as to how the world operates or how Reality is defined.

As Westerners, we laugh.  We think, “Of course it was salmonella poisoning.  Talk of witchdoctors and angry gods; that’s all nonsense.”  And we are so sure.  We know that we are right.  For, we have the better knowledge of Reality and Truth in this matter.  We assume.

Yet, that is exactly where we seem to be as a nation, with respect to our political debates when addressing our government’s economic or social policies.  We are now a nation of conflicting Worldviews.  For example, Worldview 1: Global warming is a real threat and we humans are culpable.  We are responsible and must change the way we use, handle, and consume carbon deposits.  Worldview 2: Global warming is a hoax.  We are neither responsible nor culpable.  Let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing!  So, who is right and how do we know?

Or, Worldview 1: There are no gods and there is no God.  Thus, we humans are on our own.  That is, we are our own gods.  We make the laws; we set the standards of conduct, define justice, and rule the day as we determine.  Worldview 2: God created the universe and all that is within it, including humanity.  God is righteous, just, and true.  God sets the standards and defines goodness for us.  We must obey God’s laws.  Who is right, and how do we know?

This is a significant reason as to why our national politics is more like a contact sport, more of a battle for complete control where winner takes all—a naked power struggle.  We are fighting over conflicting variations of defined Truth and Reality itself.  Trump’s constant tweeting about fake news, for example, accentuates what it feels like to live in a world where one’s very sense of Reality is constantly called into question.

Is it possible for our nation to have a unified Worldview?  Can our Constitution adequately serve as that larger picture of Reality?

If a society cannot agree on the facts, that’s a huge problem in itself.  But if a society cannot even agree on the larger Truth or greater Reality, within which those facts are to be given meaning; that is a far greater problem indeed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What is a “Constitutional Crisis”; Are We about to Have One?

Basic grade-school level knowledge tells us that we have three branches to our government operative system: executive, judicial, and legislative.  Among other things, they serve as checks and balances to each other.

The U. S. Constitution gives shape to our government’s organization.  It defines its operative system and establishes its philosophical foundation.   And it builds upon that foundation by providing form and structure.  Hence, it is a legal document, an operative document, and a philosophical document.

But the Constitution is only as good as the people that choose to own it and abide by it.  For example, a people may choose to revolt and disown a constitution—we call such action a “Revolution.”

But a constitution may also break down when certain entities within its framed government choose to ignore its laws or refuse to apply its operative mechanisms or question the trustworthiness of its longstanding legitimacy.  If such action results in a breakdown of normal government operations, there is a Constitutional Crisis.

What lies underneath such a Constitutional Crisis is a power struggle between factions within the government system; a power struggle that apparently cannot be resolved by the normal application of constitutional operative mechanisms.

For example, should the President of the United States willfully violate a constitutional law or one of its conventional rules and at the same time refuse to be held accountable or culpable for such refusal, a Constitutional Crisis may ensue.  Such a crisis can lead to governmental paralysis or the collapse of government altogether; or it may even lead to a civil war.  Our own Civil War between the North and the South was a constitutional crisis, caused by the decision of Southern States to secede from the Union.

As a native born citizen with legal voting rights, as well as a contemporary observer of present day political action (or lack thereof), I have been hearing a few political pundits warning us that President Trump is effectively taking us down the pathway toward a Constitutional Crisis.  It sounds over the top, as in hyperbolic exaggeration.

But I understand their reasoning.  And, given recent developments at the White House, I must say that I wouldn’t be surprised if we do eventually get there.  That is, it now seems realistic to think that, with Trump in office, an actual Constitution Crisis may be in our horizon.

Yet, Trump still has a core following of dazzled-eyed supporters that refuse to acknowledge that Trump has done anything or is doing anything wrong, let alone anything that calls for impeachment or threatens to lead us into a real Constitutional Crisis.  For now, they all seem to believe that it is all made up stuff by his political enemies and the so-called false-news press.  Talk about self-imposed blindness.

Of course it’s easy for Democrats to call for the impeachment of Trump.  But, if and when Republicans should ever do so, that’s when all hell will break lose and a real Constitutional Crisis may begin to play itself out.  For, Trump is not the type to go down without a fight.

So it does seem like only a matter of time, especially in light of recent developments.

Time will tell.

Until then, I do have to wonder; what will it take, for a Republican controlled House and Senate to finally say, “Enough is enough!”   This hasn’t happened yet because Trump’s party continues to see Trump as a political asset.  So they tolerate him, knowing that his core supporters continue to love him.

We’ve never had a president quite like Trump.  (And I hope that we never have one like him again.)

So, the only thing that can be done is to carefully monitor Trump’s every move.  Yes, Trump is being watched very carefully by the Media.  And that is a good thing, and quite a necessary thing, if our democracy is going to stay strong and healthy.

It takes time, but eventually all the facts will be laid out—precisely, concisely, and decisively.  And then these facts will be interpreted in light of our democratic principles.  And, if a solid case is built against Trump, so be it.

All that is at stake here is the vitality, vibrancy, and relevancy of our Constitution.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Healthcare and the Value of Human Life

Okay, so is healthcare a universal right or a special privilege?

Is healthcare a commodity, a business product for consumers to individually purchase as they will, or is it a service that the whole community should have access to and therefore collectively support?

Consider our Fire Departments.  The whole community shares the financial burden for supporting the establishment of a Fire Department.  If a house is on fire and the Fire Department is called, the homeowner is not first asked, “Did you purchase a Fire Department Policy from us?  First please show proof that you are covered and then we will come and put out the fire.”

Why is this?  It is so because we believe that fire protection (as well as police protection) is a right for everyone in our communities.  It is not a commodity to be bought and sold in a market system.  It is a necessity for healthy thriving communities.

So, why is this same attitude not extended to the principle of healthcare coverage?

As a homeowner I do not shop around for the best and cheapest Fire department protection policy.  Fire Department services are not seen as a privilege for only those that could afford to have it, nor is it viewed as a product that should be sold on a for-profit base.  So why is medical healthcare coverage handled as a for-profit product?

As mentioned above, no one views Fire Department services as a for-profit business and thus no one sees fire department protection as a product that some can choose to opt-out of, while others are free to choose which type, quality, and degree of Fire Department service they’d like to have or can afford to have—as in fair, good, better, or best Fire Department coverage.

In other words, when it comes to a house on fire, everyone gets the same treatment, however small or large the fire emergency may be; because fundamentally, putting out a house that is on fire is seen as a community problem expecting community ownership, not viewed as a personal privilege to be bought and sold in the open market system.  It seems that the same community principle should apply to healthcare.  But it is not.

Why not?

There are many reasons for this.  Primarily our economic system prevents us from seeing healthcare as anything other than a business transaction—rather than as a collective or social/community service.  Thus, the “business” of health has too much at stake to lose, if we, the people, were to view healthcare as a community right for all.  That is the biggest hurdle.

Yet, imagine if we distributed community fire protection and/or police protection in the same way that we distribute healthcare protection.  Homeowners that opted-out of, or that could not afford fire protection would have to sit there and watch their houses burn down.  People in need of the police, if they could not afford to pay their police protection premiums would have to be told that they are on their own in a police emergency call.  How is the need for medical healthcare not the same as the need to have help in putting out a fire at one’s home?

In short, there are some things in a community that are not to be bought and sold on a product or commodity bases but rather should be seen as a common/community right of service for each and all, and thus collectively paid-for by all that belong to said community.  Good medical healthcare should be one of those services.

But for us Americans, it would seem that financial profit has become more the guiding truth and principle of substance rather than morality and the principle of community and social cohesion, respecting healthcare.

In effect, we have qualified, separated and categorized our human value according to monetary value rather than a common human value.

That is, with respect to our healthcare system, we are not operating as if all of us are as one people, bonded by our human commonality, in terms of our right to respect, dignity, honor, and equal attention to healthcare needs.  We do not see ourselves as one collective body or as a unity of persons deserving of the same attention when healthcare needs arise.

Rather, we divide ourselves into the young and healthy, the old and decrepit, preexisting and non-preexisting conditional, and the payable versus the unpayable—those who have money to pay for healthcare versus those who do not have money to pay for it.

Ergo, we do not see ourselves as a community of equals in this together, respecting our common humanity and our healthcare rights.  So, when it comes to the value of our life and its healthcare needs, we are separate and unequal.

By contrast, if someone’s home is on fire, he, she, or they are treated with total equality by the fire department, no questions asked; and the whole community pays for its service.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Presidential Greatness?

We all have something to hide is the point behind the saying, “everyone has a skeleton in the closet.”

Another way of putting it is that everyone has done something stupid in their life, something for which they are embarrassed or even ashamed to admit.

No one is perfect.

Nevertheless, we also like to think that we learn from our mistakes.  Though, admittedly, some seem to learn faster than others.  Still, we generally assume that we are on a positive trajectory—one of constant and consistent self-improvement.  We like to think that we are better people today than we were yesterday.

Some of us even like to think that we deserve all the credit when we do improve; easily forgetting all the people in our lives that positively influenced us that nudged us in the right direction, along the way.

Think about it.  Every great person in history has had someone in her life that s/he is able to point to, as having helped give shape to her personal development, providing wisdom, inspiration, insight and direction to her personal growth.  It may have been a teacher, a coach, a pastor rabbi or priest, a grandparent, or a friend.  Whoever it was, or whoever they were, it was most certainly someone s/he greatly respected, highly trusted, and much loved that inspired and motivated that great person to be better and do better.

But what is “greatness”?  True greatness is about quality of person and character, not about wealth and power.  It is about who you are, not about what you have or what you control.

But I have to pause.  It seems that today’s measure of greatness is not about who you are, but about what you have obtained.  By this measurement, all billionaires and millionaires are great.  They are great because they have managed to make and accumulate great sums of money.  Being worth a fortune makes them great in our eyes.

We have little concern about how they may have obtained their money.  Did they cheat, lie, or steal—to get what they have?  It seems not to matter.  All they need be is rich and successful and they have our automatic respect and support.  Indeed, if they brag about it, are proud and arrogant and boisterous about their successes and accumulated wealth, we respond by esteeming them all the more.  We are dazzled by their apparent brilliance at making it big.  And we are fools.

Let’s go back to the top.  Remember the idea that everyone has a skeleton in their closet, that everyone has done something foolish for which they are embarrassed or ashamed?  This is also true of great persons.  Great people have skeletons in their closet, like anyone else.  But the difference is that great people are properly humbled by this and are willing to acknowledge that they too have feet of clay.

Thus, one common denominator among all great persons is their humility.  And with that humility comes the ability to admit when they’ve made a mistake, with a willingness to accept constructive criticism, with a willingness to apologize and correct any errors they may have made along the way.   Thus, another common trait among great persons is their willingness to accept full responsibility for things that they have said and done without scapegoating or blaming others and pointing fingers at someone else.

And so, great people are not only humble, accepting full responsibility for their actions including every word they utter, they also have integrity and are completely transparent.  They neither run nor hide from personal scrutiny.  They are an open book.  They speak truth and do so with clarity.

With these qualities in mind, qualities of greatness, I have to conclude that our 45th president is set out to become one of the least of our presidents—in terms of greatness.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Problem with our Political Assumptions

Assumption: How we see ourselves and others in the political arena is as important as which issues and policies we choose to support.  Problem: We no longer see ourselves as one people (Out of Many, One).  We see ourselves as separate and incompatible people (Out of One, Many).  We now seem to assume that we are all different people with divided values and separate goals working at cross purposes and that there is no value in working with or collaborating with, “the other side.”

Assumption: A healthy democracy requires its people to think holistically, to see the ‘big picture,’ and to value procedural rules and processes without undermining them for political gain.  Problem: We now seem to be willing to manipulate and cheat the system in order to get and maintain political control for ourselves—our party, our cohort, our political agenda.  We are now greedy for absolute control and will do anything we can to have it our way and get what we want while virtually saying, “To hell with the others.”

Assumption: The ends should never justify the means.  Problem: “Yeah right!  Don’t be so naïve!”  Is the new attitude about that principle.  Republican and Democrat alike fight on with an approach and attitude that virtually says, “We must win at all cost, using every means possible—good or bad, fair or unfair, just or unjust.  It’s winning that counts!”  Out maneuver, overtake, and overpower the opposing side, take down your opponent however you can, wherever you can; have no mercy and take no prisoners.

Assumption:  We want peace, justice, truth, honor, integrity, and things done in the right way and for the right reason.  Problem: We are willing to bend the truth and ignore dishonest methods when the truth does not favor our side.  If it benefits us, we support unjust and dishonorable methods and welcome unrighteous tactics to get our way.  Hypocrites are we all.

Assumption: A people are stronger when they are united in purpose, values, and goals.  That is, it is good to find common ground and work through our differences even when it means we must compromise or give-and-take a little.  Problem: When we say, “Let us work together,” what we mean is: “Come now, be reasonable and see it MY way!”  Compromise is now a dirty word.  And to “give-and-take” means, support us all the way or become our enemy.

Assumption: The world, including the environment, international relations, economics, social justice, and human health and welfare is a set of intertwined and complex systems requiring much insight, study, and wisdom for properly applied public and private policies.  Problem: We think everything should come down to a KISS: “Keep It Simple Stupid.”  We have become simple-minded black-and-white thinkers, refusing to acknowledge the basic complexities, complications, and variations of this thing we call life on earth.

Assumption: The Federal Government should be concerned for what’s best for the nation as a whole and what’s best for all its citizens regardless of social rank, economic status, or geographical location.  Problem: There is no cause but that which is personal and local, no reality but that which we personally desire or imagine, and no truth but that which we define to our own liking.  It is not about “us and ours—we the people”; it’s about me, my, and mine—versus them, they, and theirs.

Assumption: Democratically elected government officials are not above the law and must be transparent and accountable to the people in all that they do while in office.  Problem: We are tolerating an elected president, who refuses to be transparent in crucial areas that may involve conflict-of-interest, respecting his personal and family business affairs.  Example: He refuses to release his tax returns.  Yet he continues to wield a great amount of power and influence while remaining in the position to personally gain that much more wealth from his private businesses.
Furthermore, he outright rejects the idea of being held accountable for his words and actions, never willing to admit that he misspoke or said something that was just not true.

Assumption: the problems connected with the above assumptions, if not corrected, will inevitably lead to our decline as a nation.  And it will be long term, like a frog in slowly warming water—we won’t notice it until it is virtually too late.