The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
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Thursday, August 9, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

I’m not the only person these days who wonders if American society is becoming one big dysfunctional family. Or to what degree is it really “one” anymore. “One Nation Under God, Indivisible”? There sure seem to be a lot of divisions these days. Some pundits even talk about the coming of a “New Civil War” or a “Soft Civil War”.

They don’t anticipate another territorial shooting war led by a modern Robert E. Lee or William Tecumseh Sherman, but they do see increasing social and economic polarization that could cause large-scale disruptions in interstate trade, citizen mobility, cultural interchange, and political cooperation between regions and through other ways of dividing people. Today’s version of Bull Run, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Seven Days and Shiloh may be fought largely on-line, given how important the internet and social media has become to so many areas of daily life. America today has quite a number of ways in which people seem to be dividing into “them versus us” groups. Of course, the big divisor seems to be political beliefs and philosophies (progressives versus conservatives, etc.), but in some ways, it even appears that men and women are preparing for battle!

For instance, we now have a cable TV series that picks up where #MeToo leaves off, i.e. about a female terrorist movement that kills men (i.e. Dietland, which I have been watching this summer). In the original American Civil War, the battles were between the same two governments. In a 21st Century version, the combatants will be different for most every major battle.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, June 28, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

In my last post, I reviewed the 2020 Presidential primary situation for the Democrats, and concluded that Senator Kamala Harris is starting to emerge from the fog as an early favorite for the nomination. I considered some of the pros and cons for Harris, including her strategic positioning amidst potential Democratic voting blocks in November, and concluded that she would have a fighting chance of beating Donald Trump, especially if Trump continues to alienate Hispanics. However, I opined that Senator Harris still needs to “up her game” a bit to achieve the stature of a national leader (and towards achieving nation-wide name recognition — in that vein, I have noticed that CNN and MSNBC are giving Senator Harris a lot more air-time these days).

Although I respect Senator Harris and I would sincerely consider supporting and voting for her in 2020, my personal favorite potential candidate remains Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Interestingly, both Harris and Klobuchar are former prosecutors and former Attorneys General. In a previous blog post, I explained why I believed that Klobuchar could win and would be a good President. And I stand by that opinion one year later.

However, being a political realist, I understand that Harris is closer to “where the Party is” today, with its continuing leftward shift. And I will admit that Harris, as an African American (actually, the child of a Tamil Indian mother and a Nigerian father – or roughly akin to Barack Obama with his American Caucasian mother and his Kenyan father), can probably inspire higher levels of black turnout, which could make the difference in several of the midwestern swing states that Clinton lost in 2016. I believe that Senator Klobuchar would also have the chance of taking  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:11 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I’ve seen some recent articles written by informed political observers (Salena Zito and Tim Swarens) indicating that Trump has a pretty decent chance of winning a second Presidential term in 2020. We’re still more than 2 years away from the 2020 election, but at the same time we’ve had Trump in the White House now for 18 months. Despite a lot of outrageous words and actions, his Presidency seems nowhere near collapse, notwithstanding the predictions of some that Trump would be gone within 2 years (e.g., John Kerry reportedly told an associate of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in January that Trump would be likely be out of the White House by the end of 2018). Despite approval ratings that bounce between 38 and 44%, support for Trump within the GOP remains strong, although there are some early signs that his popularity in the Midwest is beginning to wane.

Still, it looks as though the Democrats may not have an easy time retaking the White House in 2020 (we will obviously get a better fix on that following the mid-term Congressional elections this November). Democrats have some heavy thinking to do regarding who their best candidate might be. The 2020 primary field for the Dems is just starting to focus, and the situation seems to parallel the GOP situation for 2016. I.e., there are a wide range of figures expressing or hinting at their interest, with no one predominating (as Clinton did in 2016, or Trump does now with the GOP). It’s likely to be a horse-race, where the strongest runners won’t emerge from the pack until late in the process.

The biggest strategic question for the Dems is whether they should attempt recapturing some of the white working-class voters that largely defected to Trump in 2016, or whether to double-down on their “new coalition” of educated professionals and working-class people of color. This choice appears to be  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:14 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics ...

The February 2018 Atlantic Monthly mag had a long article on Vice President Mike Pence, going into great detail about his evangelical religious views, and how he squares them with his extreme loyalty to Donald Trump. It seems as though Trump could do most anything, no matter how heinous, and Mike Pence would still be there to defend Trump. So it was interesting to read how Pence responded to the big revelation in October 2016, during the midst of the election campaign against Hillary Clinton, that Trump was on tape, courtesy of the show Access Hollywood, discussing his sexual exploits of women in a very crude and abusive fashion.

McKay Coppins, the editor of the article, reports that Pence clearly was considering jumping ship during the first few days of the firestorm that this revelation (by the Washington Post) had triggered in the Republican Party. For a few days there, it seemed as if Trump’s continued candidacy hung in the balance. According to Coppins, Pence distanced himself from Trump during those days, not returning phone calls. There was serious talk among GOP leaders and funders about dumping Trump and putting Mike Pence in his place (with Condoleezza Rice in the VP spot). And Pence was indeed returning phone calls from such leaders. Coppins reports that then-GOP National Chair Reince Priebus advised Trump that he could either drop out or lose in a landslide, and that Pence and Rice were ready to step in as the new GOP Presidential ticket.

Trump, of course, pulled a Houdini and slipped out of that crisis. Two factors came together to save Trump, and he brilliantly exploited both. First, there was a national debate with Clinton coming up in two day, the second in a series of three debates. Second was the fact that Hillary Clinton was married to former president Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was of course famous for his own political Houdini moves with regard to the multiple women who accused him of sexual exploitation over the years. He even slipped out  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:48 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Politics ... Public Policy ... Society ...

I’ve read a couple of interesting things lately about college education and the question of whether college should be available to everyone via government tuition subsidies at public colleges. Bernie Sanders introduced federal legislation not long ago to make all public colleges free. In 2014, President Obama proposed making 2-year community college free. The idea behind such government guarantees is that college is necessary today to obtain a good secure job with decent earnings, and that the more people who have college, the better off our society will be, in terms of economic growth, fairness and equality, and a variety of quality-of-life measures. A more educated workforce would theoretically stimulate the economy and allow employers to pay the higher salaries that highly productive college-trained workers demand. And with a higher percentage of our working population making college-level salaries, the expanding income and wealth distribution gap in our country should start to turn around, one would hope. The on-going racial gap in earnings and wealth should also improve as more minority students gain practical financial access to college.

So we get richer and have a more just society as a result of some up-front government tuition subsidy (which gets made up over time, hopefully, by increased tax revenues from higher overall worker earnings and business profits). Also, we should live better and more fulfilling lives. According to certain studies, college grads have longer life expectancy, greater life satisfaction, and better general health e.g. lower incidence of obesity. They are also less likely to commit crime, drink heavily, or smoke. They are also more likely to vote, volunteer, have higher levels of tolerance and educate their children better than non-graduates. College‐educated parents engage in more educational activities with their children, who are better prepared for school than other children.

College helps students to more fully participate in cultural and societal events and activities throughout their lives. Not surprisingly then, the rates of suicide for educated individuals is far lower than their uneducated counterparts. And, so the education idealists tell us, a more educated public is a more united public, experiencing  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:27 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Religion ...

I finally got around to reading the fascinating article in the April 2018 Atlantic Monthly on the strange and seemingly paradoxical alliance that has evolved between Donald Trump (in his role over the past few years as national politician and President), and the evangelical Christian community. The article is by Michael Gerson, a Christian evangelist who worked for President George W. Bush. Gerson knows something about Republican politics, and also about evangelism — he was raised in an evangelical family in St. Louis, and graduated from Wheaton College, a place with a strong evangelical Protestant heritage.

Gerson is not the first person to point out the paradoxes involved with the strong support that evangelical Christians have given to Donald Trump over his recent political career. To put it mildly, Trump has not shown much concern throughout his life for the Bible. And yet, despite divorces and salacious words and alleged misconduct, despite the many who have had unsatisfactory business dealings with him, despite all those who claimed to be the victim of ruthless exploitation on Trump’s part, despite the fact that Donald Trump has lived his life by the mandate of eye-for-an-eye and has seldom turned the other cheek or granted Christ-like forgiveness — despite all of that, evangelicals see Mr. Trump as a champion of what they stand for.

How did modern American evangelism arrive at this? Gerson goes back to the early 1800s and traces how evangelism has responded to the challenges of slavery, the Civil War, Darwin and Evolution, industrialization and growing secularism over the past two centuries. Evangelicals have a strong tradition of political involvement, and in that respect, their latching on to a strong political figure like Trump is not all that surprising. And yet — one wonders with Gerson how current Christian evangelists can support a man who seems so immune to the ultimate message that they are trying to spread. Sure, when Trump entered his new career as GOP candidate back in 2016, he had to spend a lot of time in the heartland, and thus had to quickly learn Holy-speak  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Public Policy ...

The tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida which occurred two weeks ago has gotten a lot of people talking about gun policy. It has also inspired the numbers geeks to take another look at the numbers regarding “mass shooting incidents” and regarding “assault rifle weapons”. Both of these phrases are easy to say, but quite difficult to define precisely.

However, given that I consider myself a hobbyist numbers-geek, I thought I would search around and see what kind of stats I could come up with from public internet sources. I wanted to see if there are any apparent correlations between shootings and social trends in public communication, such as the rise of 24 hour cable news, the world wide web, and smartphones and social media. I was wondering if the rising “sensitivity” of our society to sensational events like mass shootings because of instantaneous media sources, widely-available sources of information that did not exist before 1980, had anything to do with the rising number of shootings in our country.

OK, so how to define “mass shootings”? There does not seem to be any one agreed-upon standard; one fairly common definition is taken from a July 2015 Congressional Research Service report. This report defined a mass shooting as “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity.” An even stricter definition starts with this requirement, and further removes gang-related,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Current Affairs ... History ... Politics ...

The NY Times recently posted a video entitled “Is There Something Wrong With Democracy?“, and its worth a look. Throughout the 20th Century, it seemed as if more and more nations were casting aside their autocratic forms of governance and assuming the path of western enlightenment by adopting the institutions of representative democracy (e.g., free elections open to all adults, written constitutions and codes of laws, independent courts, limited executive powers directed by the will of legislative bodies, etc.). The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the new freedoms granted to its many constituent nations seemed to mark the final chapter of democracy’s victory.

Recall the attention that Francis Fukyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and The Last Man” gained, based on his claim that western democracy was the logical endpoint of humankind’s historical struggle to find the best way to govern nations and peoples. History was now over, the end had been reached (or was clearly in sight); liberal democracy turned out to be what sociocultural evolution had been working towards since the dawn of civilization 10,000 years ago. And yet, today, with populism on the rise throughout the world and right here at home in the USA, and with more and more developing nations affiliating themselves with an unrepentingly autocratic China, we see more and more think-pieces like the Times video and a recent article in Foreign Affairs entitled “How Democracies Fall Apart“.

What makes me scratch my head about all of this is that the usual suspected cause of strong-arm governments, i.e. declining economic and living conditions, isn’t really happening. For example, in 1981, 44% of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty. Today that figure is about 10%. The world economic picture in 2018 is better than it has been for quite some time. Growth is expected in almost every region. So why are so many people in the world today  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

I’m glad to hear that the Democrats had a good night last Tuesday (Election Day 2017), when they easily reclaimed the governorship of New Jersey and comfortably won what was expected to be a close governor’s race in Virginia. There were other local State and local elections where the Dems picked up seats in areas where the GOP had held sway for some time now, e.g. picking up legislative seats in Georgia and Virginia (including Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature). There were also mayoral race victories in St. Petersburg, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina (and even Fayetteville, NC, where ever that is!!). Democratic leaders seem jubilant; the Democratic leader in the Senate (Chuck Schumer) “smell[s] a wave coming”.

But this is still the minor leagues of national politics, and a lot of this “new blue wave” might be a short-term frustration response against Trump — I think that a lot of non-ideologue, middle-of-the-road Americans had hoped that Trump, who is quite different than your usual politico, could get a lot more done than the regular party hacks have been able to do in the past 5 or 10 years (which is not much). Trump got a lot of people’s hopes up with his bold rhetoric and unconventional manners, but 10 months into his Presidency, he doesn’t have a whole lot to show. And the more that you promise, the more quickly people notice that you aren’t delivering, and thus start getting antsy and frustrated.

And yet, the Democrats need to temper their celebrations with the realty that frustration can drive an election or two, but it is usually a short-term emotion. The bigger question is whether immediate disappointment with Trump will translate into longer term disillusionment that could tip undecideds into the Democratic column in the 2018 battle for control of the House, and the 2020 fight for the White House. The GOP hopes to regain its mojo through  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:29 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Politics ... Society ...

I see that the Democrats lost the special House election in Georgia’s Sixth District is suburban Atlanta. Jon Ossoff, the rookie Democratic candidate, made a spirited bid against Karen Handel, his GOP opponent, and the polls were very tight right up to the last few days. But in the final day they started breaking for Handel, and she wound up winning by a comfortable 4 point margin (recall that Trump only won this district by 1.5 percentage points). Handel’s victory came despite the fact that a whole lot of money had poured into Ossoff’s campaign coffers from pro-Democrat groups nationwide. The Democrats had hoped that this race was going to foreshadow the end of GOP control of the House of Representatives, and the breaking of Trump’s popularity in the heartlands.

I’m not going to offer a detailed, well-thought out analysis here. I’m just gonna shoot from the hip, like so much of what you see on social media (especially Twitter — what else is on Twitter but a lot of shooting from the hip?). OK, here’s my shot — the Democrats are just NOT LIKED anymore by too many people. For the most part, it’s not a matter of a particular candidate’s qualities. It’s not that a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might do better with “working class” voters than Hillary Clinton did. And hey, Jon Ossoff himself talked about economic development and financial restraint in a way that conservatives in his district could appreciate. The problem is that a lot of people believe that the Democrats — all Democrats, not just a particular Democrat — are selling a general world view, a general philosophy that just turns these people off.

Do you need a link to a thoughtful analysis that backs up my point? OK then, how about Thomas Edsall’s recent article in the NY Times “The Democratic Part Is In Worse Shape Than You Thought” ? Edsall cites a whole lot of data and expert opinion in this article.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:44 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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