Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rights vs. tolerance vs. intolerance

The so-called President's trip to Saudi Arabia put a renewed focus on religion and intolerance.  It's a strange thing about intolerance - it can be used by a group and against that same group and the intolerance can be unethical in both cases, ethical in some cases and ethical in all cases. Think about the case of rival criminal gangs - they may both be intolerable.

But consider the strange mix of ingredients we have here; a so-called President who advocated for a Muslim ban and who says "Islam" hates the U.S. and then turning around and selling hundreds of millions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia, home of the most extreme sect of Islam and birthplace of Al Qaeda and most of the 9-11 hijackers!

You also have the attempt to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and its modification by limiting it arbitrarily to certain Muslim countries that, coincidentally, the so-called President does NOT have business interests in.  And then you have the protests AGAINST that ban by numerous Americans who know a violation of the Constitution when they see one.

This is complicated; are all religions to be respected and accepted merely because they are major religions?  If they are not, is it OK to ban their spread?

I like to keep it simple and here is my take:

1) We should all have the right to practice any religion until this practice  interferes with the rights of others (including the rights of minors, by the way).
2) We should all be subject to the same laws of the land in a free, liberal democratic republic where certain rights are guaranteed for all as per the First Amendment, among other rights.
3) The First Amendment guarantees the rights of all of us to choose our religion, choose no religion and respect any religion we choose to respect or to not respect any religion we choose not to respect. 4) Not respecting a religion in no way diminishes the rights of those persons who practice that religion.  In fact, not being allowed to criticize a religion is a diminishing of our right to freedom of religion!

This is my reasoning for opposing any law that singles out or exempts a religion or singles out or exempts a religious practice for no reason other than it is the practice of a particular religion.

The Saudi Arabia trip buy the so-called President represents almost entirely the opposite of all these principles outlined above: the Muslim ban he previously proposed singled out a single religion was totally unconstitutional and the nonsense spouted in the speech in Saudi Arabia by the so-called President gave respect to a police state theocracy that enslaves women, persecutes gays and even executes all but true believers.  We need to respect the rights of others; but we should judge their beliefs on the merits, the kindness,the ethics and the humanity of those beliefs.  What we have gotten was entirely the opposite.

Here is some news from around the world to show why rights must be protected while withholding respect if warranted:




The same story, over and over with this President

One could write a variant of this story pretty much every week or every other day: take something the so-called President has said in the past, show it to be full of untruths and fabrications and contrast it with something he is now doing or saying that shows him to be a hypocrite, liar, inept and totally without ethics.

While running for president, the current occupant said this about Hillary Clinton:
"Crooked Hillary says we must call on Saudi Arabia and other countries to stop funding hate," Trump wrote on June 13, 2016. "I am calling on her to immediately return the $25 million plus she got from them for the Clinton Foundation!" http://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/trump-putin-no-relationship-226282

Keep in mind that the so-called President could not verify the $25million figure; keep in mind the Clintons made no money personally from the foundation; keep in mind that independent charity rating organizations gave the Clinton Foundation high grades as a quality charity; and finally, keep in mind that at the worst, the alleged $25million donation diverted money AWAY from religious extremist causes and instead was actually used to help people around the world.

On the other hand, in the last week, the so-called President did this:
"When President Donald Trump closed a nearly $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia on Saturday, his deputies’ spirits soared. Policy advisor Jared Kushner high-fived National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as he entered the room where they held talks with Saudi officials. Aide Gary Cohn told pool reporters the deals represented “a lot of money. Big dollars. Big dollars.”

The weapons sale was one of the largest in history, totaling close to $110 billion worth of tanks, artillery, radar systems, armored personnel carriers, and Blackhawk helicopters. The package also included ships, patrol boats, Patriot missiles, and THAAD missile defense systems.

Much of that military hardware will likely be pressed into service in the Saudi fight against its neighbor Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have been killed over more than two years of heavy airstrikes and fighting.

This puts the U.S. in a precarious ethical position, say human rights groups and former U.S. officials. The Saudi-led airstrike campaign has hit numerous schools, hospitals, factories, and other civilian targets, leading to well-documented allegations of war crimes by human rights organizations. The war has also pushed much of the country to the brink of starvation, with more than 17 million people facing famine, according to the U.N."  http://time.com/4787797/donald-trump-yemen-saudi-arabia-arms-deal/?xid=homepage

Yeah but Benghazi and the email server.

For info on the Clinton Foundation:  https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=16680

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

He's unfit, stupid!

The so-called President is unfit for the office of President and THAT is why he should be removed from office.  If the bar is that it must be proven that he committed a crime, colluded with the Russians, obstructed justice or has breached the emoluments clause in the Constitution and those crimes cannot be proven to the satisfaction of willfully ignorant Republican congresspersons, we will continue to have as President someone who: lies constantly; is a misogynist who has bragged about committing sexual assault; is a religious bigot towards Muslims, atheists and others; hallucinates, fabricates; bullies; is ignorant; is totally unaware of his own limitations; has numerous conflicts of interests; breaks BIG promises then lies about breaking them; and, oh yes, is the most perfect example of narcissism in the history of the planet.  In other words, even if he is not impeached for a high crime and misdemeanor, he remains unfit to be President.

The obstruction of justice and the emoluments clause are his biggest criminal problems but if he had not threatened and then fired Comey and was not milking his position for personal profit, would he be otherwise fit?  The answer is no.  Suppose, in an alternative reality, Comey had been a lackey who did the so-called President's bidding and did not get fired, would the so-called President then be fit? The answer is no.

He is simply mentally unfit for the job of being President.  This is not about politics since his replacement, VP Pence, is a more classic Republican than he is.  The 25th Amendment exists as the remedy when the President is unfit but it would take guts from VP Pence, guts the VP has never displayed.  But this is what needs to happen for the good of the country.  It's not a good idea to have a mentally unfit President no matter what his politics are or what the politics of his replacement would be.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trump and Comey

Trump's letter firing FBI director Comey had a strange sentence inserted in it that basically had nothing to do with anything else in the letter but everything to do with Trump trying to convince the world that the Russia investigation had nothing to do with the firing. Yeah, right.
To demonstrate how idiotic this insertion was, and that only a person with the mentality of the so-called President could possibly be impressed, I have re-produced the letter with an "alternative" insertion (in CAPS):
"I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am THE BEST KISSER YOU EVER MET, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau. It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores the public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.
I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Donald J. Trump" 5/9/17
I invite the reader to insert some other non-sequitur into the letter and see if it makes any more sense.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


Here is something the media does not much cover and as usual the reason is that if it DID cover it, many people would be offended and reject that media outlet.  In the age of the Internet, there are so many media alternatives that the turn off rate would be very painful for any media outlet to endure.  As a media outlet, you can't offend your customer and then expect to thrive.

What am I talking about?  The problem that is "ideology."  I use this term to encompass all belief systems from religions to secular ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, communism, socialism, fascism, anarchism, capitalism and much more.  Here is the key feature of an ideology: it's beliefs are accepted beyond question by the adherent.  Adherents often have their own set of facts to justify their ideology.  All can be explained, adherents believe, by their belief system.  No matter the miserable results of their ideology, adherents will remain faithful to their ideology!

One easily see how religions fall into this category and there is almost no need to explain the problem of religious ideology to a rational person (I know you're out there somewhere!) but secular belief systems can likewise fall into this same trap.  If a free enterprise economy leads to general and widespread prosperity, a Marxist will raise the very theoretical problem of the "alienation" of workers.  If a free market system leads to incredible income disparity and misery that begs for regulation or solution, libertarians will call the regulations or solutions "tyranny."

It is interesting that no ideologue can actually point to the actual existence of an ideal economic or political system in practice - they've never existed and the reason is simple; we humans are not ideal.  We are not reasonable so everything we do will be screwed up in some way by human nature.  A free market will be ruined by greed; socialism ruined by sloth.  Free speech is ruined by lies; government controlled speech is ruined by lust for power.  If humans were perfectly reasonable, an ideal system would arise organically - reasonable solutions would present themselves and reasonable humans wold adopt those solutions.  But since we are not always (or often) reasonable, and we don't adopt reasonable solutions, but instead cling to ideological solutions, all economic and political systems will scream out for limits, rules and patches to address the weak points that human nature will exploit in these ideological systems.

Even total freedom is a frightening prospect; anarchists seems to ignore the danger of the sociopaths and psychopaths among us; how does one enforce anarchy anyway, aside from "might makes right?" And of course, we need to look no further than North Korea to see the opposite system where the government tries to control everyone's very thoughts.

Think about the current debate over health care; one side objects to the "tyranny" of a government regulated system that steals money from the rich and sends it to the poor in the form of subsidies for health care insurance.  There are those on the other side, however, that simply hate "big pharma," insurance companies, hospital systems and so on, ideologically because they are part of the capitalistic system that we use in the U.S.  They would prefer a socialistic system where the government controls it all, from hospital, pharmaceutical companies and doctors.

A non-ideological approach would be to observe the facts around the world and ask "what works?"  The answer increasingly looks like a "Medicare for All" system actually delivers more health care to more people for less cost.  Those who live in those countries actually live longer while spending less on healthcare.  These observations are verifiable.

If one attempts to be reasonable and non-ideological, one can see the merit in this kind of approach.  As an example, George Will, generally a conservative commentator, pointed out this week that the American Public has started to see heath care as something similar to a "right."  In this country, we all are entitled to police protection, protection against invading enemies and so on.  These protections are somewhat similar to "rights" in that we have agreed, in this country, to provide them to everyone.  No one is clamoring for police protection as if it were the latest iPhone.  We need police protetion and defense for the country but we would like to be safe for as little cost as possible.  Now, it's not as if we are clamoring to be treated for being ill; we NEED to be treated when we are sick - this is not a market decision.  We just want our health if needed for as little cost as possible.  We need to treat health care the way we treat police protection and national defense, and this is without regard to the free market aside from encouraging some efficiencies.  We all need it, but want only what is necessary and for as little cost as possible. Medicare for All may accomplish this.  Imagine if we all individually had to pay for police protection or national defense and if we did not were excluded somehow?

Why shouldn't we all, from innocent children, to the elderly, to the disabled, to the poor and everyone else be protected from sickness and injury?  Indeed, why not?  The only argument against this is the selfish argument, the "tyranny" argument - the wealthy being resentful of some of their wealth being used to assist others by democratically and constitutionally enacted law.  For some reason they believe their minority position should trump the position of the majority on this subject.  It's as if those who support that position really believe humans are islands - it's as if we are all really on our own.  All the evidence, however, points to the fact that humans need each other - that is one of the feature of being a human.  That's why democracy seems to be a necessary component of a thriving society.

Ultimately it seems reasonable to take the approach that no "pure" system will ever work as long as humans are selfish, greedy, lazy and irrational.  When we become perfect, no system will be necessary.  That is why ideology is to be avoided like the plague it is.

But here is the irony: in the way that "faith" which is the rejection of reason in favor of a comforting though unjustified (by the actual evidence or logic) belief, is thought to be a virtue, being "ideological" is also thought to be virtuous in public discourse.  It is not; accepting the overwhelming evidence that humans are not perfect and that ideologically based systems to guide our lives are sure to be ruined by imperfect human nature is imperative.  We are far from reaching that imperative.

The only systems worth having are those tested by their results, with the knowledge that the tests are ongoing and the results never assumed to be permanent. Change and adaptation is to be expected and even welcomed as we think of better ways to do things.  We need to turn "ideology" into a dirty word.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

It's not the so-called President - it's us, stupid!

To put it succinctly; the problem is not that the so-called President is a serial liar and seemingly has little ability to discern fact from fantasy and seems to believe his own lies; or that he has bragged about sexually assaulting women and indeed that a number of women have accused him of doing what he has bragged about; or he is the most conflicted President ever elected with business interests that could directly profit based on the decisions he makes in office;  or that he has promoted false racist memes; or has promoted religious bigotry in the name of national security or some kind of religious entitlement; or has been willing to make health care unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans for the sake of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans; or seems to embrace or admire murderous autocrats around the world while criticizing and insulting trusted allies; or displays little intention of studying the important policy issues of the day or being informed of the real state of the world and how his own government works; and has an over-sized ego that has become the textbook definition of a kind of pathological egomania.  No, the real problem is that he was elected President, albeit via an election game that makes no logical sense and only superficially resembles a democratic process.

No, the real problem is that as many people voted for him as they did.  The fact that he received around 46% of the popular vote is the problem.  And that is the problem that needs solving.

Without the ability to read people's minds, as if the minds of many persons were actually coherent and readable, we can at best only speculate as to the reasons why a person would vote for someone like the so-called President.

If you were to ask someone of they would willingly and happily vote for a sexual assaulter, most would say "no."

If you asked a voter if they would vote for someone who repeatedly lied, had numerous conflicts of interest, would threaten the existence of their own health care, promoted racist ideas, targeted religious minorities, and did not want to do the difficult policy work of being President, an overwhelming majority would say "hell, no!"  But as it turned out, 46.1% of those who voted did vote for someone as just described.  How come?

My educated guess is that there are four overriding reasons:

1) Some people actually are OK with lying, sexism, racism, etc.  These are good attributes for them.  This is what a real leader is expected to do for some people.

2) Some people willing to overlook these obvious contemptible attributes in the hopes of some policy action that would personally benefit them, such as a tax cut for the wealthy.  This is selfishness in my book.

3) Others are simply incoherent.  They have drunk the Kool-Aid and are fans of the so-called President and can either rationalize away his incontestable faults or choose to not believe they are real.  As the so-called President has said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."  Well, he might lose some voters, but definitely he would not lose all of them.  Go to http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/23/politics/donald-trump-shoot-somebody-support/  .

4) Some actually thought that the alternative choice for President was worse.  Some people actually believed that Secretary Clinton had conspired to kill various persons, see http://www.snopes.com/politics/clintons/bodycount.asp .  Some truly believed that she lied about Benghazi. Go see the Snopes web site:  http://www.snopes.com/?s=benghazi for objective info. Some people believed that the conflicts of interest due to the Clinton foundation were worse than the conflicts of the eventual so-called President despite the Clintons releasing numerous past tax returns and the so-called President releasing none.  Go to https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=16680 and https://www.charitywatch.org/ratings-and-metrics/bill-hillary-chelsea-clinton-foundation/478 and https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=16764 .  The Clintons made no money via their charity, did much good work and no evidence of policy influence has ever been evidenced.  Most of the bad things people believe about the Clintons can be classified as fake news, spin and mammoth exaggeration.  This is not a 100% right wing fringe problem - it turns out that many Bernie Sanders supporters were targeted by a disinformation campaign designed to discourage them for voting for Secretary Clinton. It worked.  Go see:  http://www.salon.com/2017/03/31/fake-news-websites-targeted-trump-bernie-sanders-supporters-to-spread-conspiracy-theories/  .

It is the last category where the most possible work needs to be done.  I am not talking about rehabilitating the image of the Clintons - I am talking about combating fake news and the inability of too many persons - enough to swing elections - to be influenced by fake news and their inability to discern between fact and obvious lies.

The work begins with promoting reason, evidence and skepticism while exposing irrationality, blind faith and  cynicism.  That is a topic for another day.

Monday, March 27, 2017

New CD about to be released by UniversalDice featuring Gerry Dantone!

It has been about 12 years since I last released a CD with my band UniversalDice but a new CD is imminent.  In fact, it actually physically exists as we speak but is still in the process of being distributed to the many digital outlets that would include iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify and so on.  They should all have the CD and the individual tracks available for download in about a month which would mean by the end of April 2017.

For those who are unaware, I have been writing songs since the late 1970s, which makes me an old songwriter.  Typically songwriters peak in their 20s and 30s but I like to think I'm as good as ever if not quite as prolific as in the past.  I also know that objectivity and self-awareness is nearly impossible in this kind of thing so one just can't worry about such things.  If I'm past my prime as a writer and musician, I'll probably be the last to know.

Since I have a month before I can promote and actually sell the new CDs on the various music websites, I'd like to reflect on my past CDs, songwriting efforts and thoughts about songwriting and music in general.

My first viable song came after writing about 30 or 40 truly non-viable songs!  Those first 30 or 40 songs were chaotic, disorganized, poorly structured and the product of a immature mind, even though I was in my 20s at the time.  I do not believe that this is an uncommon phenomenon among writers; who is mature at age 30?  Or 40?  Or even 70?

Many of us, or even most of us, never really obtain a real grasp on reality, life and that favorite topic of songwriters, love.  These are incredibly deep philosophical areas, and most of us, including and maybe especially songwriters are typically operating in a fantasy world.  We are typically clueless.  But when we hear a love song that is authentic, it does catch our attention.  When we hear a lyric that has a deeper meaning than we are used to hearing, it may actually make a difference to the listener.  For well known examples, think of a great love song such as "Here, There and Everywhere."  Or a song with rich philosophical overtones such as "Eleanor Rigby."  This is genius.  I'm sure you have your own ideas about what songs mean something special to you.

In any case what I'd like to do while waiting for the CD to get distributed and be made available is write about the previous CDs which are still available on line via download or physical CD.

The first CD was a rock opera that explored the loss of faith.  The first tune which was the CD title song is "My Name is Thomas..." and is somewhat unique for its subject matter - a questioning of faith,  "Religiously correct" it was not in 1998.

Have a listen: 

The confrontation with one's faith is not a universal confrontation; many never question their faith, they simply accept it without deep examination.  Many never confront the actual plausibility of faith itself.  Many simply accept faith as a virtue without considering that they consider the faith of many others to be wrong, demonic and evil.  Yet faith itself somehow remains a virtue!

The character singing "My Name is Thomas..." is a priest - who has come to have doubts.  This song is the beginning of his journey.  I hope you have a chance to listen.