Mind speech

I probably wouldn’t like Mike Pence if I met him, but, still, I do feel quite sorry for him.  The guy is going to spend a large portion of his adult life making excuses for the silly things his boss says.  I probably wouldn’t like Paul Ryan, either, but this poor guy is going to spend a lot of his time telling the press what the grown ups are really going to do, despite whatever his boss is ranting about that day.  Despite my pathos, I remain concerned that we may have moved into a new era in America–an era in which it’s ok to speak your mind.

On the one hand, there may be nothing so quintessentially American as the right to speak up, to speak out, and to speak without censor.  It is the essence of freedom.  So, when a strong person comes along who ‘tells it like it is,’ there is an understandable visceral instinct of acceptance from those who share (what seem to feel like) his beliefs, but who have felt somehow restricted from speaking their own minds.  Everybody likes a tough guy who looks out for them and talks their language.

The question is, why have these folks felt restricted in their speech?  If the resonating messages are things like “Mexicans are criminals,”  “Muslims are dangerous,”  “The Chinese invented the climate change hoax,” and “The president hates America,” then who–or what–is suppressing these messages?  And, this is the crux of the issue–that sometimes the things that suppress free speech are qualities like intelligence, rationality, compassion, decency, and maturity.  Sometimes, the reason we haven’t felt welcome to say what we’re thinking is because the thing we’re thinking is a bad thing.  We’re not bad people for thinking what we think and feeling what we feel, especially if we restrain ourselves from saying things that are useless, hurtful, mean, selfish, petty, and stupid.  On such occasions, we should all feel proud that we restrained ourselves from speaking our mind.  It’s a mark of maturity.  Unfortunately, there are people, whether due to mistreatment, privilege, deviance, or some combination thereof, who have not developed this sense of sociability.  The ‘ego’ does not check the ‘id.’  The tragedy of this, for me, is not it’s novelty (there have always been sociopaths), but rather the elevation of crassness from the gutter to the shrine.  Some have mistaken ‘mind speech’ for free speech and rudeness for strength.  A swath of the populace has backed a demagogue precisely for his willingness to say things that have long been suppressed in polite society, not for their veracity, danger to the establishment, or subversive nature, but simply because these things lacked thought, benevolence and decorum.  Calling someone “fat” isn’t free speech.  It’s mind speech.

Today in New York City, someone had scrawled anti-Jewish, neo-nazi slogans in the subway.  And why not?  It’s the era of “speak-your-mind” and, obviously, this was on somebody’s mind.  But, hate speech is not the same as free speech.  We should still speak truth to power, we should speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, we should speak up for what is right, and, indeed, we should speak up for our own interests.  However, as mature, dignified, civilized adults, when do speak our minds, we should also take care to mind our speech.



Math is hard

Education Department nominee Betsy DeVos likes online charter schools.  In fact, she has a hard time saying anything bad about them.  When Senator Patty Murray asked her why these schools perform so poorly, DeVos listed several virtual academies that had, she said, “four-year cohort graduation rates” at or above 90 percent.  That sounds pretty impressive, until you find out what “four-year cohort graduation rates” are.  According to K12 Inc., the source of DeVos information, this phrase refers to “the graduation rate of continuously enrolled high school students – those who enrolled in ninth grade and remained enrolled until twelfth grade.”  In other words, it’s the graduation rate for all of the kids who stick around long enough to graduate.  The graduation rate for these virtual school for all of those who enter the system seems to be about half that.  This doesn’t inspire confidence in either the schools or the nominee.

Our Muslim ban is not fairing well.  It seems that the State Department is backing the “so-called judge” in Seattle and the whole thing seems headed for the history books as a flatulent flash-in-the-pan.  Perhaps this will leave more time for the country to focus on other pressing matters, such as the millions of imaginary voters or the new border wall.  On the other hand, it may be that none of Trump’s executive orders are legal anyway since they were signed without proper procedure.  Kind of makes you wish the poor guy could just figure out whom to threaten with a law suit.

Dodd-Frank goes the way of Glass-Steagall

Once upon a time in the United States of America, a bunch of guys figured out that they could take money from people, gamble with it, and, if they won, keep the winnings, and, if they lost, ask the government to bail them out.  It worked pretty well for a while, until, like all such schemes, they pushed it too far, and caused a Great Depression.  At this point, the government said, “Naughty! You can’t do that anymore.” “Drat!” said the men.  “That’s not fair!  We shall overturn this rule!”  And, by and by, they did.  Then, they started gambling with other people’s money again (because it was so much fun).  They liked to blow bubbles.  They blew an internet bubble, but it burst.  Then, they blew a housing bubble, but it burst.  They wanted to blow another bubble, but the last one caused a Great Recession.  The government said, “Naughty! You can’t do that anymore.”  “Hmph,” thought the men, “we’ll just wait.  Someone will come along and take that silly rule away again.”  And, sure enough, someone did–just today!

Now, some say the new rule was too mean.  Some wonder if the second rule had any better chance than the first (or any chance at all of surviving more than a few years).  Others wonder why a president who campaigned on promises of standing up to Wall Street has caved in to its basest desire.  Still others think that this would have happened no matter who became president, because the people who play this game are actually in charge.

By the way, in case you were wondering what the rule that just got shut down was, here it is:

“To promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘‘too big to fail’’, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.”

Well, so much for the American taxpayer.  Now that that’s behind us, guess what’s going to happen next!  (Clue:  what happened the last two times?)

As long as were talking about failed policies, guess whose Muslim ban just got shut down?  That same guy who did the favor for Wall Street!  My, my.

Thanking God and revisiting the axis of evil

Today’s news brings us the president’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.  While the Secretary of Defense and the Press Secretary made sure that North Korea and Iran knew we still didn’t like them, President Trump took on the new third member of the evil axis triumvirate, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  While the press had its usual fun pointing out the silliest of the silly things that  Trump had to say, he also had some (dare I say it?) eloquent-ish moments.  Here are a few:

” America will thrive, as long as we continue to have faith in each other and faith in God.  That faith in God has inspired men and women to sacrifice for the needy, to deploy to wars overseas and to lock arms at home, to ensure equal rights for every man, woman and child in our land. It’s that faith that sent the pilgrims across the oceans, the pioneers across the plains and the young people all across America, to chase their dreams. They are chasing their dreams. We are going to bring those dreams back.  As long as we have God, we are never, ever alone. Whether it’s the soldier on the night watch, or the single parent on the night shift, God will always give us solace and strength, and comfort. We need to carry on and to keep carrying on.  For us here in Washington, we must never, ever stop asking God for the wisdom to serve the public, according to his will.”

If he did that without notes (which seems to be true of most of what he says), I think it was pretty good.  The next one is good, too, but with a heavy hand of irony.

“America is a nation of believers. In towns all across our land, it’s plain to see what we easily forget — so easily we forget this, that the quality of our lives is not defined by our material success, but by our spiritual success.”

And, I’ll leave you with this one, because sometimes even God needs a lesson in self-confidence.

“The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out. OK? That’s what I do. I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out.”

Amen and amen.  Come Lord Donald.

The Hegelian dialectic and the ghost of Scalia

Iran has tested a missile and the US administration has responded by threatening to go nuclear.  Ok, not the real nuclear–the smaller kind, where you only need 50 votes to confirm a justice of the supreme court instead of 60.  Still, it sounds cool.  Also, Trump seems to have made his first well-executed and not-all-that-controversial-really move since taking office by nominating a pretty good candidate to take the place of Antonin Scalia.  The only real problem is that so did the previous president.  Unfortunately, Republican congressmen decided that they could make up a rule against Black, Democratic presidents nominating justices in the last year of their term, and so the spot is still vacant.  So, what should the Democratic congressmen do now?  Should they reward this behavior by confirming the new qualified guy or should they behave like their counterparts and appear just as obstructionistic?  Tough options.

Looking at the bigger picture, though, it may be that there is a sort of dark brilliance at play here.  According to the Hegelian dialectic, when a new element is brought to a system in stasis it creates an action (a thesis), which leads to a reaction (an antithesis), and, finally, a new stasis (a synthesis).  The advantage then, as it applies to a political dynamic, always goes to the unreasonable, since, according to the dialectic, incrementalism is less effective than overreach.  One needs to create an overreaching tension, which then results in an antithetical reaction, and comes to rest in a new equilibrium that is further in the direction of the original action than was the previous equilibrium.  In other words, if you want to strengthen immigration laws, begin with an outlandish executive order, let the usual suspects wrangle over it, then back it down to some palpable level, denounce your detractors as traitors, and claim victory.  It’s not complicated, but it works to curry favor with the masses.

Also, in honor of Black History Month, the president held a listening session, in which he invited several Black persons to sit around him and listen to what he had to say.  Someday, maybe the Mexicans and Muslims will get their turn at such an honor.  Oh, what a day that will be!



Ya fiahd

Donald Trump has figured out how to deal with his illegal immigration banfire the attorney general!  Yes, yes, that should do it nicely.  In fact, just to be sure it’s true, here it is reported by Fox ‘news’.  Well, that should bring the party together.  (Well, maybe not all of the parties.  And, then, there’s that pesky rest-of-the-civilized-world to contend with.  Even Canadian universities have joined forces to (politely) condemn this action.)  Hopefully, all the decent Americans will be back to full employment by next week and this will all blow over.  Still, it would be nice if the new administration would just ask around a bit before signing executive orders instead of just listening to new kid on the block, Steven Miller (who’s been running up and down the halls of power).  The swamp is getting full and the alligators don’t seem to have a plan.

The transparent president

Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists, noted today that the immediate publication of President Trump’s first three National Security Presidential Memoranda (NSPMs) in the Federal Register is “an act of unprecedented transparency.”  Typically, these things are highly classified.  So, why were these published?  Aftergood offers two suggestions–either it was a mistake or it was a publicity stunt.  Steven, do I really have to choose?  Either way, three cheers for transparency!  We might as well see this stuff coming.

Still in the news is the newly-minted ‘Muslim ban.’  Reaction from world leaders tends toward the negative, with a surprise nod from Australia and a predictable nod from the European far-right.  Digging into the archives, we also find a surprise dig from the human being who later became the vice-president.  To the north, Canada’s leader has gone out of his way to welcome Muslims but others in the country have not.

Finally, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are hoping to counter the administration’s move to promote dirty energy with their own to promote clean energy.  This with a view to mitigating human-induced climate change.  And yet, scientists have recently concluded that it wasn’t climate change at all that caused the mass extinction in Australia 45,000 years ago.  It was actually just humans.  At least climate change finally gets a break.


A view inside the Trump white house.  Credit:  Peter Trusler, Monash University