Freedom of Speech More Critical Than Ever

Without freedom of speech that protects even ideas we abhor, we lose the opportunity to become our greatest selves. As November approaches, I suspect many of us will be tempted to seek bans on certain types of political speech, particularly if the U.S. general election is as vulgar as the Republican primary. The answer is not institutional control, but speaking out on our own.

Growing numbers advocate to criminalize disagreement with the general consensus on climate change. Many are actively working to make any speech criminal if someone takes offense or if the speech challenges a particular religion’s view of what is acceptable. It’s not safe space that protects us from the worst of tragedies. It is limiting institutional, bureaucratic control of our thoughts and speech that protects us. In the short term, it’s more difficult to deal with someone who sounds to us like a raging lunatic, but debate is more likely to force us to think deeply and resolve our differences than breaking into our segregated corners until we see each other as less than human.

Even as I work to design a voting booth vomit bag, knowing I will be disgusted with myself regardless of which of the likely nominees ends up getting my vote, I will fully defend the rights of my friends to support Trump, Clinton or any other candidate. I will assume you are doing so with the best of motivations unless your actions or remarks belie an alternative explanation. And if that happens, I hope you will respect my right to consider your views, take a deep breath and share my disagreement.

Democracy is not built around the presumption than any one of us knows all the right answers. It is built on the assumption that collective and even contentious debate will lead us to better answers.

Post-Nevada: Caught Between Political Hell No and I Don’t Know

Long troubled by the disproportionate primary process control of party extremists, I’m struggling to find a presidential candidate who offers me refuge from political homelessness.

With my political philosophy defined by non-traditional concepts of following Golden Rule principles and building unity – ideas that cross party lines – it’s not easy to find candidates I fully support. This year is no exception.

Republican leader Donald Trump routinely displays a full-force middle finger to anyone opposing him, emulating the contempt that President Obama has routinely displayed to his critics by not even pretending that different ideas could contain elements of merit. Perhaps Trump’s unflinching bravado explains his popularity among elements of the Republican electorate eager for payback, but he likely won’t build unity and he hasn’t even come close to sidling up to critical Golden Rule concepts.

Democrats are torn almost equally between a woman chosen by less than 10 percent of those Democratic voters who think honesty matters and a man committed to a Santa-like flow of government gifts. It seems Bernie Sanders would conscript more than half the nation into lifelong servitude that crosses the line between our Golden Rule duty to provide helping hands to those in need over to forcibly requiring the majority to porter around people who are both capable of walking on their own and likely to build better lives if left to paths with fewer bureaucratic obstacles.

Once I wake from the concept of changing my legal name to Hell No and running a November write-in campaign, I’m faced with the realistic dilemma of having to choose among less-than-desirable alternatives. Nevada caucus results only elevate my nightmare scenario prospects.

So what primary should I vote in when given a chance in mid-March? Who deserves help at least making it to November?

Each of us has our own priorities, but three fundamental reforms seem essential to the nation’s ability to survive long past our current 240 years (which also happens to be the average existence of empires before implosion or invasion). [Read more…]

Mental Illness, Politics Increasingly Intersect

It’s a bit frightening watching as the mental illness and political worlds increasingly overlap.

When I started writing on two tracks—one focused on mental illness and another on politics and public policy—I thought I was covering different subjects. Now, it’s clear that understanding mental illness and its remedies contributes to comprehending and working in our political system—recognition I share with no desire to diminish either topic.

Consider the following:

  • Schizophrenia is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real,” according to Wikipedia. “Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and lack of motivation.” As we look at public policy today, how often do we find political debates rooted in falsehoods, clear policy inconsistencies and words twisted by political opponents to suggest they mean something other than what we heard. As is the case with schizophrenia, improving our political system requires multimodal treatment that includes educational, social and other interventions, including direct treatment of some of the primary causes of the psychosis in the system. In government, the psychosis often originates in a disconnected, dysfunctional political system.
  • According to Mayo Clinic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder “is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” Can you think of anyone from the political world for whom this description applies? Understanding narcissism is too often critical to understanding politicians.

[Read more…]

America Through a Game of Thrones Lens

As an avid fan of Game of Thrones, I refuse to take the weekend off. Since I can’t watch a new episode tonight, I’ve taken time to contemplate similarities between the HBO series and today’s political environment.

Is Wendy Davis your Sansa Stark of American politics: naïve, beautiful and unfairly maligned, as she is viewed in many Democratic homes? Perhaps, despite the gender difference, you join many establishment Republicans in seeing Mitt Romney as more like Sansa. From a Tea Party perspective, Michelle Bachmann remains a constant victim of unfair abuse, never taken seriously for her ideas, but still paraded around for either self-promotion or degradation, depending on who hosts the event.

Is Hillary Clinton your Khaleesi Daenerys, as she is clearly seen by most mainstream Democrats today? She is their freer of the enslaved, ruthless and calculating, but also patient and the rightful heir to the throne from the perspective of loyalist Democrats, though I’m not sure even her most avid followers want to see the former Secretary of State emerge unclothed from any fire. Sarah Palin is as close to a Khaleesi as the Tea Party sees out there, but Chris Christie’s bridge collapse leaves mainstream Republicans searching for a hero who fits their Khaleesi hopes of riding to the rescue from outside of Washington.

Beyond being compelling television, Games of Thrones portrays a vivid picture of all that is flawed with America’s political system. It also provides a fictional comparison against which to view today’s political players. Since Democrats do a much better job of sticking together than Republicans, I looked at today’s environment through the eyes of Democrats, Tea Party members and mainstream Republicans. It’s clear there are wide differences in how each perceives the world.

While Hillary may be Daenerys to Democrats, she’s Queen Cersei to establishment Republicans. Democrats see Sarah Palin as playing the vindictive, hateful, mean-spirited Cersei role, while Tea Party members are as apt to see John Boehner as Queen Cersei as they are to view Hillary Clinton in that role.

King Joffrey is the most hateful, spoiled and evil of characters. While all of these men are alive, George W. Bush continues to be portrayed by Democrats as this generation’s Joffrey. Tea Partiers clearly see Barack Obama as fitting the Joffrey character, right down to demanding he gets to kill and control his own citizens without interference by the courts, Congress and the Constitution. Mainstream Republicans seem as intent on portraying Senator Ted Cruz as the next Joffrey as they are at ascribing that role to President Obama.

Tea Party members and Democrats would likely agree that Karl Rove is today’s Lord Baelish, while mainstream Republicans still think James Carville holds that role. Harry Reid is doing everything in his power to convince Democrats that the Koch Brothers are American’s equivalent of Lord Tywin, while Tea Party Republicans point to George Soros. Mainstream Republicans realize that Richard Trumka has effective control of the Democratic party, even if he can’t always prevent candidates from asking for trial by combat rather than accept his verdicts.

Who’s the Brienne of Tarth, the brave, tough and lonely woman who proves her honor and strength over and over? To Democrats, no one has better fit this role than Senator Barbara Mikulski over the years, while Condoleezza Rice is exactly that admirable soldier for mainstream Republicans. To Tea Party Republicans, Ann Coulter gets the Brienne nod over Michelle Malkin, largely based on height.

Harry Reid is the Hound to every Republican these days, while Democrats enjoy painting Dick Cheney in the soulless, bloodthirsty, money-seeking role. Robb Stark, a once-attractive character killed following poor decisions on who to trust, is just like John McCain from a mainstream Republican perspective. Marco Rubio is Robb Stark’s closest Tea Party comparison. Soon if not already, Joe Biden will play Robb Stark to Democrats.

Comparing Game of Thrones to today’s political system makes for an interesting exercise, but also makes clear that too much time is spent today on political infighting and too little attention on solving problems and preparing for coming threats. Who are America’s White Walkers? Secretary of State John Kerry and others recently suggested that global warming is the world’s greatest threat. I must admit I am not yet convinced that being forced to move to higher ground, even if that turns out to be the world’s future, is a more tragic outcome than having millions and perhaps more lives stamped out in the name of a cause that ultimately leads back to some power-thirsty psychotic ruler.

I have my thoughts on who would plays the part of many of the other Game of Thrones roles in today’s political world depending on who is creating the cast, but I welcome yours. Who best represents the kingslayer Jamie Lannister, the dead king Robert Baratheon, the bastard Jon Snow, and perhaps my favorite characters of Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark? Who is your Varys and Catelyn Stark and Khal Drogo? How about your King Tommen, Samwell Tarly, Margaery Tyrell, Ygritte or Hodor?

Perhaps most importantly, what are the real White Walker issues that threaten our very existence?

The Golden Rule and Political Reform

Money is expanding its role in national politics, thanks to two Supreme Court decisions. As part of a series of posts to test whether the Golden Rule can be used as a governing concept rather than just to guide personal behavior, I’ll take a brief look at whether adding a Golden Rule constitutional amendment would change the outcome of these cases.

In its McCutcheon v FEC decision released earlier this month, the Supreme Court continued down a path embraced in Citizens United of eliminating campaign financing restrictions that are not specifically intended to prevent quid pro quo corruption or the clear appearance of corruption. The McCutcheon decision removes cumulative contribution limits to certain types of political committees, following on the Citizens United decision to allow unrestricted donations by corporations, associations and unions to independent political groups.

Would the outcome of these cases be different if the nation adopted an amendment to the constitution to embed the Golden Rule in our founding document? I argue it likely would change. I also believe that reducing the influence of money on our nation’s government is critically needed.

A Golden Rule amendment might read as follows: [Read more…]

Filtering Politics Through a Golden Rule Lens

My path as a political futurist action-suspense writer would be far easier if I could tell you my tribe. If I could easily and consistently use words to describe myself like progressive, conservative, libertarian or socialist, I could quickly target my audience. If I could tell you I’m clearly aligned with the Republican, Democratic, Tea, Libertarian or Green parties, you would readily know what to expect of my views.

It would be easier.

But it wouldn’t be true.

Even if I did fix my political position today, that identification will likely shift as definitions and platforms change for political terms and parties, respectively. I may also simply change my mind on certain issues as I learn and think more, perhaps with your help.

Two core concepts that don’t consistently align with an entrenched philosophy or political party are foundational to my views:

  • My all-encompassing philosophy is the Golden Rule concept of “doing unto others as I would have done unto myself” and it’s negative form of “not doing to others what I would not want done to me.” Following the Golden Rule requires that I understand others, consider all impacted by any decision and imagine what I would want done if I were in similar circumstances. It also means thinking through long-term implications to eliminate my cognitive biases rather than rely on my immediate emotional response as a definitive answer.
  • The simpler of my core concepts is driving peaceful national longevity.  Governmental dissolutions can be peaceful, as one might expect if Scotland secedes from Great Britain. However, secession efforts frequently turn violent as we see today in Ukraine. Disorder and chaos create vacuums often filled with violent conflict. Conflict always finds innocent victims. There’s no opportunity to make amends to dead innocents.

The Golden Rule is embedded in the scriptures and teachings of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism, Jainism, Taoism, Baha’i, native spiritualities, and many other faiths. The Golden Rule also happens to be endorsed by most secular humanists and atheists/agnostics as a core life principal. In fact, it’s a unifying principle across nearly all of humanity but one many think of as confined to governing personal behavior. Unfortunately, it is not embedded in the governing document for the United States. It is not required to be considered in developing our laws, regulations and enforcement.

Once we agree that we should treat each other fairly doesn’t mean we will always agree on what that means. After all, we each start with an individual experience and knowledge base. Seeing past our biases takes study, debate and an open mind. The Golden Rule, though, at least gives us a common objective to work toward and against which to ask questions without demonizing those beginning from a different answer.

After a month-long break from posting here, I’ll take a stab this week at testing my Golden Rule-based philosophy against several of the issues I expect to dominate media attention during the 2014 mid-term elections: political reform, income inequality, climate change and immigration. I won’t pretend my views are the definitive answer, only that they make sense given what I know.

Readers who define themselves along traditional partisan lines almost certainly won’t agree with everything I write. Hopefully, though, I’ll raise concepts you hadn’t considered, offer solutions not generally debated and otherwise leave you feeling that reading these perspectives is a good use of time.

My personal and author branding would be easier if I could pick a well-defined track that others have cleared in advance and just ride the rails to an audience. But I haven’t found a path that I can stay on without believing I’ve taken a wrong turn.

I’ll be interested in your reactions.

Millennials Move Toward Party Independence Offers Hope

I’ve half-joked for years that Washington D.C. has too many Democrats, too many Republicans and far too few Americans. It’s not that our leaders aren’t patriotic. Instead, strong party identification itself is more hazardous to national governance than most suspect.

In Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them, Harvard Professor Joshua Greene delves into the problems created by tribally influenced public policy decisions. Throughout history, our moral intuitions are heavily influenced by human desire to remain in solidarity with our identified tribe (or political party). Human instincts frequently align with protecting the tribe rather than solving the problem. We’ve certainly seen this behavior in Washington expand exponentially since the early 1990s.

To make matters worse, even when political leaders engage what Greene refers to as their “manual mode” to more deeply reflect on ideal solutions, they are increasingly disoriented by the selective information sources that shape their views. Few elected officials have the time or political incentive to do what should be their most important work of studying why they might be wrong and whether alternative solutions exist outside of mainstream party policy.

There may be reason for hope. Recent Pew Research Center polling data shows that half of all Millennials now consider themselves political independents. This is the largest and fastest-growing generational party independence. If Americans move away from strong party identification toward issue-by-issue and person-by-person judgment of our elected leaders, we may be able to nudge our political leaders toward less tribal approaches. Of course, we will also need to enact political reforms, such as California’s recent move toward open primaries, to make it more likely that politicians who stray from their tribe on an issue can survive politically.

Recent Trends in Party Identification, by Generation

In his farewell address in 1796, President George Washington warned about the troubles political parties would create for our nation: “They are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Perhaps our Millennial generation has already seen enough of this behavior, from both parties, to decide it’s time to chart a new course.

End of an Era, Finally

By the time John Dingell and Henry Waxman leave Congress at the end of this session, they will have served just a few months shy of 100 years combined from their seats in Michigan and California.

Their simultaneous parting makes sense as each served as the other’s foil for so long. For decades, their congressional careers intertwined in tense power struggles, a mingling I had the chance to see up close in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During work on the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, I had the honor of being cursed out by Chairman Dingell, making him the second most powerful politician ever to have let me know in strident tone and content that I didn’t have the right to challenge a point of fact as he stated it. Despite this, I admired his dedication and commitment to his cause. From Chairman Waxman and some of his staff, I learned that when you argue from the far left, the self-presumption that your motives are pristine allows for fudging in methods of achieving one’s objectives. It’s a lesson I’ve never agreed with, but never forgotten in coming to my own conclusions on right and wrong in politics and policy.

During their decades and decades and decades of service, there is no doubt that Congressmen Dingell and Waxman did great good at times. There’s equally no doubt that extensive attentiveness to protecting committee jurisdiction, engagement in personal disputes and long-ago separation from the realities of daily American life led to less-than-optimal policies at others. I’m grateful for the chance to have watched them work together more than two decades ago, when they showed an ability to put aside personal power struggles long enough to reach agreements on significant legislation.

I’m glad they are going together. It’s only right. Dingell and Waxman belong together as much as Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple.

This unlikely pair might not be the best example of why we need a political system with fewer incumbent advantages, but you can’t look at nearly 100 years for two congressmen and say we have the ideal system for electing citizen legislators. I hope we will fix our political system so legislators stop seeing Washington, D.C. as their true home.

After all, centuries should be celebrated by nations, not elected officials.

Time to Replace Tic-Tac-Toe Democracy

Once again, our petulant government leaders are engaged in a contentious battle of policy tic-tac-toe, leaving the nation mired in the pit of a perpetual D.C. cat’s game.

Substantive issues plaguing our nation remain unresolved, even as the two sides hold dueling press conferences to explain why one side placed its O in the bottom left corner after the other placed its X in the center, all the while knowing the outcome of the game is preordained.

Cat's Game

Cat’s Game

Until we change the game, both sides will continue to prance and preen, pretending they are serving our interests. In reality, they are satisfied to play the game to the cheers of adoring audiences: reveling further when opponents condemn their every move. Meanwhile, the nation stagnates.

It’s time for us to step in and change the game. If we want our interests to take precedence over the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties, we’re going to have to create a new game board, with an entirely new set of rules and a definition of victory that puts the American people ahead of politicians.

Readers of my novels will know that I believe a constitutional amendment to fix our political process is an essential pre-condition of restoring America and improving the lives of every American. Our politicians have devolved into playing zero-sum games, where the only options are win, lose or draw. Only by changing the game can we create an environment where win-win-win alternatives are the preferred outcome over win-lose and, far too frequently, everybody-loses battles.

Here are a few new game rules I believe are essential: [Read more…]

10 Desirable “Unbelievably Small” Outcomes

Secretary of State John Kerry commented today that a military strike against Syria would be “unbelievably small.”  Kerry has to know that “unbelievably small” does not describe any successful military strike. This phrase does, however, describe a number of desirable government outcomes.

Here’s my short list:

  1. Unbelievably small federal debt
  2. Unbelievably small poverty rate
  3. Unbelievably small unemployment rate
  4. Unbelievably small political contribution limits
  5. Unbelievably small number of people entering the nation illegally
  6. Unbelievably small number of eligible food stamp recipients
  7. Unbelievably small high school dropout rate
  8. Unbelievably small number of drug addicts
  9. Unbelievably small college tuition bills, and
  10. Unbelievably small crime rate.

There are plenty of others, but I’ll stop there. In Secretary Kerry’s defense, his unscripted comment that America might not need to act if Syria gives up its chemical weapons may have stumbled on a better solution to the crisis than any previously suggested.