Pay Attention!

Misdirection: “A form of deception in which the attention of the audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.”

On December 16, 1998 President Bill Clinton ordered airstrikes on Iraq because, he argued, Saddam Hussein was building “weapons of mass destruction”. The bombings were opposed by a good many of the members of Congress and by most of our European allies. The timing of the order for the new wave of bombings, called Operation Desert Fox, was interesting; the day before the bombings the House of Representatives had initiated impeachment charges against Clinton accusing him of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” over his lies related to Monica Lewinsky.

This was not Clinton’s first coincidental use of military. Three months earlier, on August 20, he ordered missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan three days after he was called to testify before a grand jury over his affair with Lewinsky and his subsequent televised confession.

It is certainly possible these military operations had been planned in advance, but it is also very likely they were timed to misdirect the public’s attention from the scandal caused by President Clinton’s hyperactive libido. In fact, his detractors sometimes referred to these military actions as Monica’s War because of their questionable timing.

Of course misdirection is nothing new. Politicians are often akin to those guys on city streets who invite you to guess which cup hides the marble while they swirl multiple empty cups before your increasingly confused eyes. Or maybe it is more like the cartoon boxer who swings one fist wildly in the air to get his opponent’s attention then knocks him cold with the other fist that was being ignored.

And political misdirection often takes other forms.

In 2013 citizens and media were intensely focused on the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on same sex marriage. We were so focused on that case that we missed Congress passing and President Obama signing  H.R. 933 which included a section referred to as The Monsanto Protection Act limiting federal court jurisdiction over any cases dealing with genetically modified or engineered seeds. That means that even if we ultimately learn that consuming food produced from these seeds is harmful to our health we cannot file suit against Monsanto seeking medical coverage or other compensation. Congress and the President took advantage of the fact that our attention was focused elsewhere.

Of course our current President is the master of misdirection. Many folks argue that President Trump tweets and says outlandish things in public because he is just crass and incapable of self-control. While that may be true there is little doubt he also plays the game of misdirection, and he is good at it. Any time breaking news casts him in a negative light he begins tweeting outrageous claims or he goes wildly off script in a public speech.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s fabrications no longer surprise us. We now just ignore the exaggerated estimate of the number of people attending his swearing in ceremony, his claims to have talked with Mexico’s president and the leader of the Boy Scouts, his claim that he saved money on military aircraft when the cuts were actually planned under previous administrations, criticizing President Obama for moving our British embassy (a decision made by President Bush), his promise to release his taxes, his claim that Mexico would build a wall, his claim that more people watched his State of the Union address than ever, and all the other constant untruths. Add to that all the personal attacks on journalists, federal judges, his own appointees, and just about everyone other than himself and his own family and we just come to expect his almost daily unsupportable and preposterous comments.

I believe President Trump’s most outlandish tweets and utterances are intended to misdirect the public’s attention. He used misdirection when he abruptly announced an anti-transgender military policy, an announcement intended to make voters ignore his attacks on Jeff Sessions and other scandals of the day. He tweeted about millions of illegal voters on the same day the New York Times ran a story about his questionable business dealings both here and abroad.

His misdirection is almost methodical, and there is a reason for that. He really doesn’t want Americans to think about or understand Robert Mueller’s investigation into the relationship between his staff/family and Russia. He really doesn’t want us wondering what he is hiding in his tax returns. He doesn’t want us thinking about the consequences of the tax reform package or his failure to reform Obamacare. He hopes we will miss the fact that since he became president Democrats are winning elections that they should lose. He wants voters to forget his claim to “drain the swamp”. He doesn’t want us wondering about his use of the presidency to increase his personal wealth. And he really doesn’t want us wondering about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. In fact there is quite a bit he wants us to ignore.

And we now have an “adult film” star claiming to have had an affair with President Trump while he was married to his current wife, and she claims to have proof (I hope I’m NEVER forced to see such proof if it does exist!). Other women are coming forward (and have come forward previously) with the same claims. I’m pretty sure President Trump doesn’t want us thinking about those scandals and will do everything possible to misdirect our attention.

I’m also pretty certain President Trump doesn’t want us thinking about the federal lawsuit accusing him of taking illegal foreign gifts in violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause”.

This morning President Trump attacked giant online retailer Amazon (one of his favorite targets) and, as is often the case, his attacks were based on untruths. Don’t you wonder what motivated this morning’s tweet?

Can we expect the deployment of cruise missiles in the near future? Can we expect a new wave of White House firings? What outrageous tweets should we expect? How will he misdirect the public’s collective attention?

We need to avoid watching the swirling cups. We need to ignore the fist spinning in the air.

We need to pay attention.





Dear Ms. Clinton:

I walked into the voting booth on November 8, 2016 and placed a check mark in the box beside your name. I wasn’t actually voting for you but was voting against Donald Trump. I almost wrote in my pet Boxer’s name. If you’ve been reading this blog the last few months you know that in no version of reality would I vote for Donald Trump.

The day after the election an old friend, a Trump supporter, sent me an email asking for my thoughts in ten words. I gave him twenty:

“There are few people I detest more than Donald Trump.”

“Thank goodness the Clintons will now be going away forever.”

Why, Ms. Clinton, can you not fulfill my prophesy? You lost and you are largely responsible for the loss. You ran against one of the most unpopular, unqualified, and offensive candidates in America’s history, and you lost. Yes, the James Comey memo on your emails had an impact and there is little doubt some American voters did not vote for you because you are female, but you ultimately lost the race. And yes, I know you won the popular vote by a significant margin but being a Yale educated attorney I think you probably understood that you were required to win 270 votes in the Electoral College; you and your campaign apparently ignored that little detail.

And then you have blamed everyone and everything and taken very little of the blame yourself. You continued that theme even last week in India where you essentially blamed your loss on ignorant voters.

In your best selling book and at other times:

  • You claimed that Trump won because of bigoted white voters, but many of those voters had previously supported President Obama. About 1/3 of the counties that voted for Obama TWICE were won by Trump in 2016. You LOST those counties. Nobody took them from you.
  • You blamed President Obama because, according to your argument, it is difficult for a candidate to follow a president of the same party who was elected twice. Really?
  • You blamed Bernie Sanders because of his attacks on you and the Democratic Party. Well, the Democratic Party is dysfunctional (as is the Republican Party) so his attacks there were justified. And I don’t recall any falsehoods in his attacks against you (I certainly could be wrong).
  • You blamed the debate moderators for not asking how you planned to create jobs. Was this the only opportunity you had to explain your policy ideas to the voters during the entire campaign?
  • You blamed journalists for giving Trump so much free air time. That is true but from what I recall most of that air time was used to reveal Trump’s weaknesses as a candidate and human being. The exception was FOXNEWS, a network that openly supported Trump.
  • You blamed it on husbands and brothers who pressured the women in their lives to not vote for “the girl.” Just last week you reiterated this claim.
  • You blamed Russia, the Democratic National Committee, your own campaign staff, campaign finance laws, Jill Stein (the Green Party Candidate), Anthony Weiner (the man with the most appropriate name in history), and uninformed voters.
  • And you did accept a small portion of the responsibility because you finally admitted that referring to a sizeable portion of the American public as “deplorables” and having your professional emails on a private server cost you votes. Yep!

Please consider these facts:

  • You lost Michigan. Michigan! You never bothered to court the United Auto Workers. You did not speak to the Michigan Democratic Women’s Caucus. You apparently pretty much ignored the entire state. Most voters there didn’t even see one of your TV ads until the last week of the campaign.
  • The same was true in Wisconsin. You blamed that loss on new voter ID rules but the truth is you didn’t visit the state after you won the Democratic Party’s nomination.
  • You never articulated a clear message. Trump was going to “Make America Great Again” (as if it wasn’t great already). I think you used something like “Stronger Together” but I’m pretty sure you never articulated the slogan’s meaning. As columnist Richard Cohen said, your real slogan was something like “Hillary Clinton-because she’s not Trump”.
  • You had trust issues with the American voters. This was likely your major weakness. A New York Times Poll taken before the election found that 67% of voters did not believe you were trustworthy. In fact, your trust levels were even lower than those of your husband after he openly lied about his affair. The voters’ lack of trust in you gave the Comey email announcement traction. If the voters had trusted you the announcement would likely have had little impact.

So why didn’t voters trust you? Why were you never able to change that perception? There is no single answer.

  • Perhaps it was because after you stepped down as Secretary of State you went on the speakers circuit and earned $200,000 or more (sometimes much more) per speech for a total of $22-25million, most from groups that had lobbied the government while you were in the State Department.
  • Perhaps it was because you deleted about 30,000 emails that had been kept on your private server. You did so before sending another 30,000 to the Department of State for review. You expected voters to take you at your word when you said the deleted emails were personal and unrelated to your professional duties.
  • Perhaps it is because you voted for the Iraq war before you changed your mind, at which point it was too late.
  • Perhaps it was because of your questionable responses when other women accused Bill of the Problematic Zipper of rape, fondling, or other sexual indiscretions.
  • Or perhaps it was the fact that, when asked whether you always told the truth, you said “I’ve always tried to” rather than “yes”.

Or maybe all these accusations against you over the decades were fabricated. I have my doubts.

Please let the 2016 election go. You lost. Even sixteen months later it is hard to believe you lost against Donald Trump, but you did. Move on. Please.

I wish you well in retirement. Enjoy your grandchildren.

Thank you.


PS: I want you to know that my previous comments about you cost me long-time “friends” which just proves that some liberals can be as close-minded as the conservatives they criticize. Yes, Ms. Clinton, I expect to lose even more because of what I wrote here.



A Narcissistic Culture

Narcissism: inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity. Synonyms: self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism.

I’m a worrier. It is an unfortunate part of my nature that I’ve worked hard to overcome in recent years. I’ve had some success but when I awaken at 3:00 am thanks to a 64 year old bladder I often have trouble going back to sleep because the wheels start turning. I worry.

Thanks to a trait I inherited from my Mom I also want to understand and explain the things about which I worry. Mom and I drove my Dad crazy when we would try to understand why someone took a certain action or behaved a certain way, why people believed the things they believed, the nature of ultimate reality, or when we pondered other similarly mundane topics.

The thing I worry about most these days is the world my generation is leaving our children and grandchildren, and I also want to understand our willingness to do so. Why is it that we are willing to leave behind a country and planet suffering from pollution and environmental degradation, from hunger, from inadequate medical care for those who cannot afford it, and from extreme poverty when we have the resources to address these and other problems? How can we focus on so many less pressing matters when our children’s future is at stake? I don’t have an answer but I do have some ideas.

Back in the late 1970’s historian and informed commentator Christopher Lasch published The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. Lasch argued that American society has essentially become self-absorbed and has progressively turned away from more important values. He said this self-absorption is based on fear (of old age and death, of failure, of being weak, of inadequacy) and that fear has caused us to focus on consumption as a substitute for authenticity. GIVE ME MORE STUFF!! I NEED A BIGGER/NEWER/SHINIER TRUCK AND A BIG SCREEN TV!!

Although Lasch used broad and sometimes unsupported claims to make his arguments, I think he reached powerful conclusions that may be more relevant today than when he offered them in 1979. Most of my students are required to read excerpts from his work during their time with me (or were before I stopped teaching full time).

After a careful analysis of various social factors Lasch concluded that Americans:

  • Care more about appearances than about virtues such as character.
  • Constantly need approval by our fellow citizens. We “cannot live without an admiring audience”, according to Lasch.
  • Have a fear of long-term relationships with other people or with institutions such as the church, schools, civic organizations, and families.
  • Admire celebrities and those we consider better than ourselves or who have obtained more money or stuff than we ourselves have. We attach ourselves to “those who radiate celebrity, power, and charisma”.
  • Are more interested in being “consumers” than being self-reflective.
  • Have no interest in knowing about or understanding the past so we don’t care about the future.

He argues that the contemporary individual is “superficially relaxed and tolerant” and “demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire”. We want more material stuff and other things that in truth only briefly satisfy our desires.

All of this:

  • Leads us to think we can control nature.
  • Leads us to seek great wealth whether or not we need it.
  • Causes politics to become even less authentic with political institutions failing to respond to the desires of the voters. It becomes what The American Conservative calls “politics as celebrity theater”.
  • Leads us to focus on pleasure as “life’s only business” and deny rational thought or “reason” to guide our lives.
  • Causes us to rely on “experts” or other professionals rather than educating ourselves.

Sorry. That was a lot of information and I’m obviously skipping a bunch. Lasch offers much more and, at times, begins to sound like a grumpy old man. But was he right? Are we driven by greed? Have we lost our core principles? Are we a frivolous and fickle society impressed by celebrity? Can we no longer think for ourselves?

Did he offer ideas to which we should pay attention?

In my opinion…yes. The cultural narcissism Lasch described in 1979 largely describes contemporary society’s willingness to live only for today rather than considering what is best for future generations. How else can we explain our willingness to ignore the needs of our own children or the country and planet we love?

We honor celebrities who add nothing to society other than playing roles in movies, playing sports, or attaining wealth rather than honoring the men and women who serve as first responders, scientists, teachers, or those who serve in the military. We cannot wait until the next cool device is released so we can purchase it but shortly thereafter we start thinking about another cool device. Many of us work our lives away in jobs we hate just so we can be wealthier. We worry about the brand of clothes we wear. We abandon marriages and lovers with relative ease. We care nothing for America’s past. We destroy nature in our attempt to control it. We choose a celebrity billionaire reality TV star as a party’s candidate for president over men and women who had political experience and who offered concrete ideas about moving America forward. And, according to most polls, we let others think for us rather than taking the time to understand complex issues ourselves.

I obviously know that these are broad, sweeping statements and that they don’t all apply to everyone individually, but I do believe they largely describe American society as a whole. Our constant need for instant gratification, for the next new “thing”, and for satisfying pleasures in general, fuel the economy but minimize character and other personal and social values which should be more important.

I believe this behavior is the definition of cultural narcissism.

Now I sound like a grumpy old man.

I worry.



The News This Week

I haven’t had time to think seriously about a single topic this week so I thought I’d offer my take on a few of the major news stories. Last week I posted an entry entitled “What a Mess”. This week wasn’t any better.

  • Daniel Pinto, J.P. Morgan’s co-president, warned that the stock market may lose 40% of its value within the next couple of years. A great deal of investor unease, according to Pinto, is caused by the tariffs announced by President Trump and the possibility of trade wars with our major trading partners. It appears that nobody pays much attention to history. In 1930 Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Act imposing tariffs on our trading partners and the consequence was a prolonged and more severe Great Depression. The law had an impact on trade for decades. I assume President Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn understood history since he resigned over the tariff threat.
  • Eleven countries signed the Asian-Pacific Partnership in Santiago, Chile this week. The partnership includes about 500 million people in those countries who will benefit from the agreement’s reduced tariffs and open trade. The United States withdrew from this agreement last year. Just remember that open trade has historically been supported by the Republican Party (it has opposed high tariffs) and President Trump’s tariffs are not supported by a good number of Republicans in Congress.
  • President Trump agreed to visit North Korea and meet with Kim Jong Un, possibly soon. Maybe sanctions and President Trump’s strong rhetoric (little rocket man, etc.) are actually paying off. It is also very likely that Kim is just playing one of his well known games to gain attention. Kim says he might be willing to give up nuclear weapons. I doubt it.
  • A former Russian spy, his daughter, and nineteen others are being treated for exposure to a nerve agent. This is being treated as attempted murder by British authorities. In many ways Russia has not changed at all in centuries. There appears to be very little difference between czars, Communists, and current leaders. Does anyone doubt the source of this attack?
  • We learned this week that the number of American opioid overdoses increased by 30% during a 14-month period ending in September last year. Almost 16% of ER visits were for opioid overdose. Larger metropolitan areas experienced a 54% increase in overdoses and two states, Wisconsin and Delaware, suffered an increase of more than 100%. We are losing the “War on Drugs”. It is time to try something new. I’ll gladly offer ideas if anyone is interested.
  • Every day I think things cannot get any weirder in the White House, but the Stormy Daniels story is about as weird as it gets. Anyone believing President Trump did not have an affair with Ms. Daniels while married to his current wife is probably drinking too much of the Kool-aid. And I think it is stretching the imagination to believe President Trump had nothing to do with the $130k paid to her by his attorney the month before the 2016 presidential election. Are the folks supporting him even though he is a self-admitted philanderer the same folks who wanted Bill Clinton impeached for infidelity? Are evangelical Christians who continue to support President Trump hypocrites? My cynical side believes President Trump’s announcements on tariffs and North Korea are meant to deflect our attention from the Stormy Daniels story
  • LeBron James has narrowed down to four the list of teams with which he might sign as a free agent. I could not care less.
  • Serena Williams is back on the tennis circuit after giving birth to her first child last year (and almost losing her life in the process). She won her first match. I do care about this.
  • Martin Shkreli will be sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge in New York today for defrauding investors. You may recall Shkreli as the drug company CEO who increased the price of a life saving AIDS drug by 5,000% making it difficult or impossible for some folks with AIDS to purchase the drug. I hope the judge takes Shkreli off the streets for the maximum number of years (15).
  • European Union trade commissioner Cecila Malstrom announced that if President Trump goes forward with the steel and aluminum tariffs the EU will increase tariffs on bourbon, denim, bicycles, Harley Davidsons, and a number of other products. Such tariffs would result in Americans paying more for each product targeted by the EU. Sorry to keep coming back to this topic, but President Trump’s proposed tariffs are almost certainly a very bad idea.
  • Former President Barack Obama is in the process of signing a deal with Netflix. This would be a major deal for Netflix and would give President Obama a major platform with which to reach millions of people (and an even fatter bank account). I still say that Jimmy Carter is the model former president (though he was a weak sitting president).

I have several topical posts in mind, one addressing “cultural narcissism”, one discussing liberalism and conservatism, and the other on national versus state political power. Riveting stuff! I’ll try to find time over the weekend to think more clearly about at least one of those topics.

I am also interested in your ideas for topics I could explore on this blog. If you have any ideas let me know. And if you like my blog please share with others.

Thanks for following my blog and thanks for your patience when life and work keep me from writing. I just need to retire and write blog posts!!

What a Mess

During the last year I’ve written about the sad 2016 presidential election that gave us two horrible candidates from which to choose. I also wrote about the way confirmation bias was influencing President Trump’s supporters and keeping them from viewing reality objectively. I criticized President Trump for surrounding himself with sycophants who were unwilling to tell him the truth. And finally, I asked readers to defend President Trump after I tried to clearly provide the reasons I believed he was betraying those who voted him into office and why I thought he was unfit for the Presidency (nobody was willing to do so).

A year later it is pretty clear that the Trump administration is a mess and is one of the most undisciplined and chaotic administrations in history. We can never predict what news will come from the White House each day.

Here are a few of the news stories just from the last week:

  • One day after testifying before Congress that she occasionally lies for President Trump, Hope Hicks, White House Communications Director, resigned. She was the fourth Director in that position to resign since Trump took office. This is someone who had been working for Trump long before he was elected President. During the last year 1/3 of President Trump’s advisers have left their jobs, an unprecedented departure rate. Expect more departures. Possibly many more. Remember former Trump Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci? He was quoted as saying that White House morale is terrible, and “The reason why morale is terrible is that the rule by fear and intimidation does not work in a civilian environment”. He said “people are afraid to talk to each other”.
  • President Trump said he would have rushed in to the Florida high school unarmed to take on the fellow shooting students with an AR-15. This from a man who took five deferments to avoid military service because of “bone spurs” although he was otherwise able to play football, tennis, and other sports.
  • A real estate firm owned by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, was awarded a loan of $184 million to build a skyscraper after one of the founders of the lending company met with Kuschner several times in the White House. That in itself is unethical if not illegal. Of course this was a couple of days after Kushner’s security clearance was downgraded. And, by the way, this was not the only such loan secured through contacts in the White House. Kushner’s company may have secured up to $500 million in this fashion.
  • President Trump attacked his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, because he was not playing by the President’s preferred rules. He has attacked Sessions on several occasions previously. By the way, Sessions replied that “as long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
  • Mike Rogers, President Trump’s National Security Agency Chief and head of U.S. Cyber Command, told the Senate that President Trump had not authorized him to pursue strategies to stop Russian interference in America’s electoral processes. Rogers said that Russia continues cyber attacks on America and that we are not doing what is necessary to stop those attacks.
  • Without consulting other officials President Trump announced extremely high tariffs on imported steel and aluminum causing the U.S. stock market to drop 400 points. Our major trading partners, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, then announced that they will likely impose retaliatory tariffs on goods we ship to those partners. You may expect to pay more for stuff. Consumers will suffer.
  • Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, plead not guilty to an array of additional federal charges including money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent (he had lobbied for the pro-Russian Ukrainian government), bank fraud, and more. Of course Manafort’s former partner, Rick Gates, plead guilty to similar charges last week and the special prosecutor then dropped the charges against Gates who will almost certainly be testifying against Manafort. My crystal ball tells me that Manafort will spend a lot of years in prison unless President Trump pardons him.
  • And then there was the $31,000 dining set bought for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s office. The budget allowed $5,000 and one HUD employee was reportedly demoted when she tried to follow the appropriate limit. Don’t conservatives normally complain about government wasting tax dollars? I know I certainly do.
  • And finally, there was President Trump totally opposing his Republican colleagues on the gun control issue. That didn’t go over well with the party and the NRA. We’ve seen this movie before, however, when he held the meeting on DACA at which he expressed support for programs which he then opposed the next day. It is reasonable to expect the same backtracking on the gun control issue.

That is just the last few days. Want to go back a month? Examples:

  • President Trump ordered the Pentagon to plan a military parade, an order even one of the hosts on Fox and Friends (President Trump’s largest cheering section) called a “waste of money”.
  • President Trump’s personal lawyer admitted paying a porn star $130,000 but said it was his own money. This is the woman with whom Trump reportedly had an affair while married to his current wife. The payment was made a month before the 2016 presidential election. I’m sure the timing was just a coincidence.
  • The White House had a difficult time getting its story straight when staffer Rob Porter resigned after his two ex wives came forward with abuse claims supported by photographic evidence. The White House defended Porter as a “man of integrity”.
  • Even after his Justice Department and FBI asked the President to keep a controversial memo confidential he released it to the public. The memo has been largely discredited as incomplete and misleading.

If you pay attention to the daily news you know I’m just scratching the surface. The chaos in the White House is obvious. And, by the way, the Russia issue remains what BBC calls the “cloud” over the Trump White House. It isn’t going away and it is pretty obvious the special prosecutor has a strategy to move up the food chain till he determines who knew what and when they knew it. It is also pretty obvious that he is investigating President Trump for obstructing justice for firing James Comey who initially investigated the Russia issue.

And while our executive administration is in disarray, Russian President Vladimir Putin essentially threatened nuclear war this week by bragging about Russia’s new “doomsday” nuclear weapons and publicly presenting a video depicting a nuclear attack on Florida.

And President Trump criticizes Alec Baldwin for his Saturday Night Live skits. He says nothing about Putin.

And all the other issues facing our country and people are largely ignored.

What a mess.

I still promise to post any civil responses defending President Trump. I really want to hear such a defense.