Why Do Americans Think It’s Right to Deny the Vote to Fellow Citizens?

Americans say they value democracy. But often they don’t act like it. In fact, often they try to deny the vote to fellow citizens (e.g., poll taxes) and, frequently, try to delute the votes of their fellow citizens by gerrymandering. Frankly, it’s despicable. And shameful. Yet most of these people feel no shame. That’s the tragedy.

I doubt there is any worse example of shameful conduct than found in my native state of Pennsylvania. I’ve dealt with the Republican leaders in that state when I was a cabinet secretary. On the surface, they seem like reasonable people. Yet when it comes to drawing congressional boundaries, they’ve not been reasonable at all. They’ve been rabid partisans. They’ve intentionally diluted the vote of minorities and Democrats in general. As a result, the congressional caucus in Pennsylvania does not resemble the voting citizenry. It has been heavily skewed in favor of the Republicans.

In essence, the Republicans have acted cowardly. They have not tried to win office fair and square. Rather, they have actively worked to retain power through trickery. If you don’t believe me, pull up the last congressional map developed by the Republicans.

They should be ashamed. Yet apparently they don’t have sufficient character to feel shame.

Now lest anyone think I’m picking on Republicans, I’m not. It’s possible Democrats in other states have been just as shameful in their practices. I don’t know; I haven’t researched it. But as for Pennsylvania — a state for which I have a particular familiarity and affinity — it’s been the Republicans who are the culprits.

As a lawyer, I’ve long been extremely disappointed in our Supreme Court, which has tolerated this tactic of disenfranchisement. Frankly, there aren’t many areas of jurisprudence that have been so contaminated by partisan politics as this one. The court’s tolerance for rampant gerrymandering has been inexcusable. Shameful.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and is trying to rectify the wrongs perpetrated by the Republicans. We’ll see if they’re successful in restoring full voting rights to the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue again. I’m skeptical but hopeful that a sense of justice and fairness will trump the partisanship that too often dictates the court’s rulings.

It’s been said that power corrupts. The Republicans in Pennsylvania are living proof of that. Of course, there are many other examples, including many involving Democrats and people of no particular political affiliation. But it’s corruption no matter how you spin it.

I am hopeful that justice prevails in my native state. The people deserve no less.

 

Is “Follow Your Passion” One of the Great Lies?

“Follow your passion,” many people say. But is such a blanket recommendation sound?

I’ve never thought so. And neither do some other people.

I know that many people are interested in what billionaires think, for obvious (although perhaps faulty) reasons. So here is a link to an article about what Mark Cuban has to say about following your passion.

Cuban puts it succinctly, “One of the great lies of life is ‘follow your passions.'” Follow the link it you want to know why he feels that way.

From the Ashes of Evil, New Leaders Are Born

It is time for my generation — the Baby Boomers — to step aside. But we’ve shown no sign of doing so willingly. So the mantle of leadership will have to be yanked from our selfish grasp. I’m heartened to see that begin to happen. But somewhat surprised by who’s doing the yanking.

It’s the children.

More specifically, it’s the children in Florida who lost classmates and others to bullets. Bullets shot from an automatic assault weapon. That was bought by an alienated young man. Who wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer.

The insanity cannot be allowed to continue, the children say. They deserve to be safe in their schools. They deserve to be valued more than corporations and politicians who care only about themselves.

Their parents and neighbors have failed to act for far too long, say the children. So now they’re going to take action. They will protest. And organize marches. And do everything in their power to change things.

How much power they actually have remains to be seen. It may be little. It may be a lot. Perhaps much depends on their resolve. And the resolve of adults who care about the kids. And their future. And who are willing to put the interests of the kids and other innocent bystanders (such as concertgoers in Vegas) above the interests of gun manufacturers and the NRA.

My generation has sold out. Most of our elected representatives are on the take. They’re corrupt. They put their own interests — specifically, they’re overriding desire for money from wealthy contributors such as the NRA and gun manufacturers — above the interests of the people. They do not deserve to have power.

Hopefully, the kids will be successful in yanking some of that power from their greedy hands.

Anti-Social Media

There’s a lot of talk about the harmful effects of social media these days. Even some people who have been instrumental in developing and promoting the sites have been speaking out. Loudly and often. As I earlier mentioned, I’ve also witnessed, up close, the insidious, addictive power of Facebook and other so-called social media sites. It’s caused me to take a fresh look at the phenomenon.

I’ve concluded we’ve got the term wrong. There’s nothing social about social media sites. In fact, they tend to be anti-social. So let’s frame the issue right and start calling it what it is: anti-social.

All the mental health statistics in our country indicate my conclusions are sound. They’re all going in the wrong direction. If you don’t believe me, it’s not hard to find the data; look for yourself. Or talk to a counselor at any school. Or a nurse at a college. I guarantee you’ll be shocked by the amount of anxiety, depression and other psychological symptoms our young people are experiencing (as well as adults). In short, the degree of alienation and anxiety felt within the populace is unprecedented.

Check out our suicide rates, too. And ask yourself why there’s a positive correlation between Facebook use and depression.

And then check out any Starbucks or restaurant the next time you’re out. Observe how many people have their faces glued to their smart phone and how little face-to-face conversation is taking place.

I also can’t help think how we used to not have mass shootings like we do now. It seems to me that it’s connected to a national psychic pain, a condition that seems to be aggravated by our disconnectedness which, in turn, is exacerbated by our technology (as well as other factors, such as our obsession with money and things and our disregard for the weakest and suffering among us).

I could go on with one example after another that supports my thesis — that these supposedly social devices and programs are actually having an anti-social impact. But my purpose isn’t to convince. Rather, it’s to share my decision and perhaps spur parents to question whether their kids are being helped or hurt by all the new technology that dominate many lives.

That’s not to say technology is inherently bad. It isn’t. But it is to say it’s important not to lose sight of our real goal: happiness and fulfillment. If we assume the unfettered use of technology will make our lives (or the lives of our kids) better, then we may be making a grave mistake.

I confess I’m glued to my iPhone and computer too much. I’ve recently taken one step to help rectify that, by deactivating my Facebook account. Today, I deactivated my LinkedIn account, too.

It’s not that I’m going to swear off digital technology. I’m not. I’m not trading in my iPhone for a flip phone and I’m not swearing off Twitter (at least not yet). But I’m going to focus more on the things that lead to happiness and a sense of fulfillment and purpose and less on the distractions.

If You Hang with Liars, You’ll Become One

This week President Trump’s lawyer said he paid a hooker $130,000 out of his own pocket (so she wouldn’t go public about her encounter with Mr. Trump). Right. I’m a lawyer. I can just imagine paying a hooker $130,000 out of the goodness of my heart for a client. Clearly, Mr. Trump’s lawyer is as big a liar as Mr. Trump himself is.

But that’s not surprising. One tends to become like the people you spend time with. My guess is, if you spend much time around Mr. Trump, and want his business, you’re pretty likely to become a liar just like he is. If you weren’t one to start with.

Be forewarned, Vera: choose your friends and clients carefully. And don’t delude yourself into thinking you’ll be better than they are. I’ve seen it time and time again. People have the uncanny ability to drag others down into the gutter with them. People think they’re above it — that they can resist. But in due time, they usually don’t. They succumb. They get dirty just like the pigs with whom they associate.

Speak the truth in all things. But if you’re serious about it, keep distance from those who habitually lie. It’s really quite simple.

Russians Who Helped Trump Win Have Been Indicted

The U.S. Government indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities in connection with alleged improper activities to influence U.S. elections. According to the indictment, the defendants’ operations included “supporting the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.”

None of this comes as a surprise. Despite Mr. Trump’s hollow protestations to the contrary, anyone who has been following developments already knew that Russia had meddled in favor of Mr. Trump. But it might be a wee bit harder for Mr. Trump to stick to his script now that the U.S. Government has formally charged 16 Russian defendants.

Putin helped get his man elected (despite not winning a majority of the votes cast). But this story is far from over.

P.S. 2/17/18: Just came across this gem from last year. What a bright idea: working with the very person and country that’s trying to undermine your country.

When a Nation Fails to Protect Its Children

In the first six weeks of this year (first 31 school days to be exact), gun violence visited our children’s schools 17 times. Red marks the spot (add a big red dot in Florida):

The latest rampage claimed 17 lives and more than a dozen wounded. It’s hardly news anymore. We don’t know when or where school children will be gunned down next, but we know it will happen. And happen again. Time and time again. And yet we do nothing. We accept it as a fact of life. But, of course, it isn’t a fact of life. It’s only a fact of life in the U.S.A

Americans are an odd bunch. This is the face of America today:

Many of us them (this is one time I don’t want to be lumped in with all of my fellow citizens) apparently love the NRA more than our children. They want the “right” to arm themselves with assault weapons, just in case … . Meanwhile, the right to live is routinely taken from innocents, by gunpoint.

I wonder what some of these people think they’re protecting. A nation that cares so little for its children that it fails to protect them? A nation that caters to the whims of a lunatic fringe full of conspiracy theorists? Is such a nation worth preserving?

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” they say. I suspect many of the parents who are making arrangements for their daughter or son’s funeral might say you can keep your thoughts and prayers to yourself. I know I would.

I will never vote for a candidate who takes a red cent from the NRA. Until more people do the same, nothing will change. Children’s lives will continue to be snuffed out.

Will America act, or will it continue merely to roll out its “thoughts and prayers” to make itself feel better when its children are slaughtered?

Or perhaps we’ll just blame the kids.

I guess we’ll see.

P.S. For perspective (homicides by firearm per million people) –

P.S. # 2 If there is any doubt about the power of the NRA, consider the fact background checks are not required on all gun buyers and then consider the information below. Obviously, our representatives have someone else’s interests in mind other than the people’s.

P.S. # 3 Sobering data:

Why Doesn’t Trump Care that Russia Meddled in Our Election?

It’s pretty clear that Russia meddled in our last presidential election. And the elections of other democracies. Now I’m not for taking the high road. Goodness knows the U.S.A. has meddled in other countries’ elections. And worse (such as government-sanctioned assassinations). That said, I don’t think it’s something we should overlook or excuse either. After all, we are a democracy. If the integrity of the electoral process is compromised, that which underpins the system collapses. So, yes, it’s a big deal, and it’s something we should address in an aggressive manner.

Yet our president isn’t the least bit bothered by Russia’s interference. Which raises the obvious question: Why not?

I think there can be only two possible answers. First, he’s not bothered by it because it worked to his favor. And, as everyone knows, it’s always about what is best for Donald J. Trump. We have a president who puts nothing — absolutely nothing — above his own personal interests. So he may not be bothered by the whole Russia affair because he was helped by it and expects to be helped even more in the future.

The other possible explanation is that the Russians have something on him. That would explain a lot. In effect, Putin could bring him down by the disclosure of information that revealed Mr. Trump did something that even his more ardent supporters would have a hard time excusing.

So which is it? Explanation # 1 or # 2?

I have no idea. Of course, it could be both. And it could be something entirely different.  But it’s unlikely.

P.S. If Trump refuses to answer the special counsel’s questions, his refusal would suggest explanation # 2 is the right one.

Dude, Nobody’s Normal

Recently, I watched a Netflix show called Atypical. The main character is a teenage autistic boy. There was a scene where he was commiserating with his sister. Some kids at school had been making fun of him. In frustration, he said, “I wish I was normal.”

His sister’s boyfriend, who was present too, immediately piped up. “Dude, nobody’s normal,” he said.

I thought how much better off we’d be if we learned that lesson early in life.

It seems we’re constantly comparing ourselves. To others. To our sense of the ideal person. To someone we’re told we should be. To the kind of person our culture values.

We think there is a normal. That other people have it together. That we’re the only imperfect ones. The only ones who feel broken. The only ones wrestling with certain demons or struggling to hold it together.

But, in reality, the boyfriend was right: Nobody’s normal. When it comes to people, there is no such thing as normal.

We are whom we are. Genetics are part of it. Parenting is a part. Other outside influences, over which we had little or no control, are a part of it. Luck plays a role, too.

When we feel tension between whom we are and the person we think the world is expecting us to be — or the type of person the world rewards or values the most — we might think we’re not normal. Or think life would be so much easier if we could be different — more in line with what people expect or our culture values.

But we are whom we are. Perfection has nothing to do with it. And neither does someone’s expectations (or our own).

Rather, we must live the life that is unique to us —  our life. It might seem harder than the life others have to live and, indeed, it might be harder. But there is nothing to be gained by such comparisons.

We can’t live someone else’s life. We can’t be someone else. We only can live our life.

Normal has nothing to do with it.

 

 

What the Books of a Declining Empire Look Like

Don’t say we weren’t warned. (But, of course, it’s likely we will later say we didn’t know the risks simply because we are loathe to take responsibility for our own actions.)

As the chart demonstrates, the current Congress has taken actions in the past six weeks that will inflate the deficit substantially. Yes, it’s true: the Republicans have gone from the party who pretended to care about the deficit to the one that doesn’t give a damn about it, even in public. Not that Democrats are any better, of course. They’ve done their fair share over the years to create this fiscal mess. And, of course, no one ever thought the president would be fiscally responsible. After all, he’s the one who drove businesses into bankruptcy and had a university go belly up. I suppose it’s only appropriate that he be the one to lead the country down the path of fiscal demise.

As a grandfather, the worst part of this (in addition to what it means for Medicare and Social Security, which, of course, isn’t good) is what it will do to your generation, Vera. Simply put, your standard of living will be lower than it could and should have been. All because of the selfish decisions of the people who came before you.

Obviously, not enough people share my concern. If they did, then we wouldn’t be seeing this fiscal train wreck in action.

In any case, it is what it is. There may not be anything you can do about it other than to keep it in mind as you make your own financial and career decisions. And to realize America’s best days might be behind it.

P.S. The below chart shows what I already knew but that runs counter to popular opinion, namely, that Republicans run bigger deficits than Democrats.

P.S. # 2 – The president released his budget today. So we now know, using conservative assumptions, that  total US debt is projected to rise from $20.5 trillion today to an unprecedented $29.9 trillion in 2028.

The last chairperson of the Federal Reserve Bank said this should keep people up at night. Apparently, it doesn’t. But it will someday.

P.S. # 3 – Oh, by the way, here’s what Mr. Trump said about our national deficit in December 2015:

If we don’t … balance up our budget — at least get it damn close and soon — we’re not going to have a nation anymore.

Not that I consider him a reliable source. But even a broken clock is right twice a day.