Feb 3, 2017

Making Love Last

Today it seems like there is an undercurrent of cynicism about Love - it can't last - we shouldn't get too involved to avoid getting hurt..... The divorce statistics seem to bear out this pessimistic view of modern Love.

Well, perhaps. But there are some practices that we can use as lovers to greatly improve the odds for our relationships.

Our culture is not particularly physical - we don't touch each other a lot. In my English family, it was almost never. So Love was basically cerebral. We had reasons to love one another. "She is beautiful; sexy; smart; funny; a good cook; she seems to love me; etc." These are all judgements that our minds make up about the other person. If we have a lot of judgements in the positive column, then Love is justified. We can even feel emotions of love.

But what happens over time? We add some judgements in the negative column. "She is always late; she was flirting with that guy; she doesn't seem to like sex anymore; she hates football; etc." So we arrive at Mature Love. We don't feel strong emotions like we used to, but we are comfortable with each other and the positive column still is longer.

And with luck, we might just be able to maintain that state forever - especially if both of us are kind, considerate and secure. But all too often, the negative column keeps growing. Small hurts are not forgotten nor forgiven. And finally, it is impossible to generate those feelings of Love. We are left with anger and resentment - some kind of separation is inevitable.

These are the scenarios of Love based on the mind. Love based on judgements and evaluations. But there is another basis for Love that doesn't eliminate the mind, but adds another component to our experience of Love that transcends the mind.

That is Love between bodies.  I'm not just talking about sex, although that is a part of it. Mostly, it's about a regular body connection that is a communication without the involvement of the mind - a hug, for example. Experts talk about the benefits of regular hugs - the release of oxytocin that not only reinforces our feelings of Love but contributes to overall health. A hug is the most simple form of body communication. It can be done in the middle of normal daily activities, fully dressed. A hint - take a normal hug and make it just a little longer - long enough to really feel the body of your lover - and long enough that it goes beyond being routine.

But the real power of body communication is not just in hugs, but in putting together two bodies for the purpose of passing energy through the skin. I define "making love" as physical contact with both parties giving 100% of their attention to the other. Clearly, without clothing is far more powerful - although some people may find that they have to overcome resistance to physical intimacy. It is recommended that a regular time is dedicated to physical contact - upon awakening and just before going to sleep for example. I discuss this at length in my article on the Ceremony in this blog. Click on the link to see much more detail about technique.

There is something totally magical that passes between two bodies in Love. The mind cannot even begin to understand it. It is a kind of non-verbal communication beyond the abilities of the mind. Something passes between our skins that binds us and makes us want to keep communicating with our bodies. Sometimes, especially if we are young, we will want to go on to a full sexual experience. Wonderful. But we put our bodies together first of all to feel our Love.  Just a little caressing is all that is needed. Each couple will find their own path. It is so pleasurable that it will probably not require any effort to become a regular practice.

It is important to note that we should not try to use this kind of contact as a seduction for sex. Modern couples may not always have the energy for sex after a grueling day. The effort for one of the couple to use body contact as a way to initiate sex with a less willing partner will diminish both the sex and the practice of body contact. It is preferable to enter the contact with the intention of just being with the partner and sharing love. If during the contact, the bodies arrive at a conclusion that they want to have sex, splendid....

Adding physical communication of Love as a daily practice can greatly improve the odds for a relationship. With the more intense confirmation of Love, little slights are more likely to be forgotten. The positive column remains the longest and may even grow longer. This can easily become the most enjoyable part of the relationship.

Nov 25, 2016

Corruption...

May 25, 2015  Rota, Spain
Everywhere we look we seem to find evidence of corruption.  Here in Spain there are continuous cases of politicians, bankers, and businesspersons involved in shady and illegal transactions.  The United States is even more corrupt.  The corruption is virtually systemic although the media is a part of it all and therefore it doesn't get the attention given to corruption in Europe.  It is very common for ordinary people to wring their hands and complain about how rotten the system is.  And it is.

So there is a great temptation to blame the wealthy, the bankers, the politicians - those who are obviously benefiting from the corruption. But wait a minute.  I am going to assert that Western Capitalist society is corrupt from the bottom to the top - few people excluded.

There was a time when personal integrity was fundamental and so common that, those who had demonstrated a lack of integrity were virtually shunned.  I remember as a boy stories of people who walked miles through the snow to return a few pennies given in error as change during a transaction.

I was hugely impressed by the documentary movie on the American Civil War presented by Ken Burns. In it he read letters by soldiers on both sides of the conflict, written from the battlefield to their families.  Many of them were going into battle the next day in battles that could be expected to wipe out 80 percent of their infantry units. So the soldiers were saying goodbye with the expectation of almost certain death the next day.  In their letters, they spoke of their dedication to the cause for which they fought and of their loyalty to their comrades in arms. Their eloquence and nobility seemed so strange to our modern ears.

In those days, American was still a rural society and our personal values were those of a people who knew their neighbors.  We were people whose relationships were almost always with others that they knew. Strangers were rare and perhaps a little suspect until better known.  Here in Spain people lived in villages in which they knew everyone.  So the integrity of an individual was well known - and respected if worthy.

But over time, we became an urban society.  We deal continuously with strangers.  We pass through the street without knowing anyone that we see.  In small towns, some of the old culture lingers among groups of neighbors.  But in general, we are much more anonymous.  If we do something selfish, immoral or even illegal, those who see us will not know that.  There are fewer informal consequences for our actions.  If we are not officially caught with our hands in the cookie jar, we just got away with a cookie.

Gradually our personal values shifted.  We became more selfish.  It became a virtue to advance oneself and ones friends without much regard for the consequences of our actions on invisible others. Here in Spain, a person who knows how to play the system is considered a "listo"... a person who knows how things work and knows how to take advantage.  Being "listo" has both good and bad connotations, but the most successful people are generally the most "listo".

When I studied Law, my fellow students were there to position themselves to make a good living. There were a few idealists like me who wanted to make society more just, but most were there as a stepping stone to a comfortable life.  And who can blame them.  It is not a bad thing.  But law is based on an adversarial process where the lawyer does everything possible for the client on the theory that the other side is also going to do everything possible and in the legal battle, the truth will come out.  Well, in the real world, more money buys better representation and more money usually wins. Lawyers are accomplices in legal robberies.

Over time, lawyers have taken large corporate clients whose profits are frequently not in the best interests of the general public.  Whenever a corporation has some kind of crisis, they call in their lawyers and public relations specialists before making any kind of statement. This is the kind of corruption that draws public attention.

Our system is now so corrupt that reform seems almost hopeless.  There are few people in power who don't have a stake in the status quo.  The media seems dis-inclined to ferret out corruption. The corporations are firmly in control. And the executives of a corporation have a fiduciary duty to realize maximum profits for their shareholders.  If they were to reduce profits in order to reduce pollution, the executives could face lawsuits from shareholders. So nothing is going to change until the public becomes really enraged - but really enraged.

But at the same time, we need to look to our personal integrity. If we are willing to accept in ourselves actions which are self-benefiting although damaging to others, then we are part of the problem. So, lets get enraged but clean up our own lives first.

Jul 27, 2016

Bernie Sanders People - LISTEN UP! We need to understand what Bernie means by Political Revolution! READ THIS...

When Bernie Sanders told us that he wanted to create a "Political Revolution" many of us passed lightly over that phrase. Actually, it is a hugely important concept and absolutely the centerpiece of Bernie's whole philosophy. Since I am also a Bernie person, I want to expand that concept a bit to give us a better foundation to move Bernie's "revolution" forward.

First, let's distinguish the difference between a Revolt and a Revolution.  A Revolt is a change in government - a regime change - often accompanied by violence and turmoil. A Revolution is a shift in public thinking that automatically produces changes in culture and institutions. Revolutions are gradual because it takes time for a new idea to gain traction and become generally accepted.  The idea of Women's Rights is a revolution that is still in progress, but shows how a change in thinking very gradually produces changes in culture. The shift in thought automatically causes a shift in culture and institutions in a democracy.

Bernie's Political Revolution is a call for a whole new progressive political climate where we can address the many specific issues of: climate change; fracking; the TPP and TTIP; influence of corporate money in elections; high cost of education; health care for all; decline of the middle class; and on and on..... We are inspired by the possibilities.

Why can't we just tackle those issues with our current political system? Well, at the moment we can't even have an intelligent conversation about those issues. First we need to reverse the effects of an intentional campaign by the right-wing media. We are now well into the second generation of ordinary citizens who have been exposed to and influenced by aggressive right-wing hate media commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, etc. Progressives like us are called "Libtards" and those folks proudly feel that they and they alone understand reality. Corporations now control virtually all of the public media outlets and so now we have major TV channels like Fox News that will give air time to the idea that climate change may not be real - or that Obama is a closet Muslim. CNN will present interviews of Donald Trump telling complete lies - while CNN totally fails to challenge those lies. There is very little real journalism remaining.Virtually all TV content is propaganda.

Corporations and billionaires like the Koch Brothers have funded public relations agencies, think tanks, and finally the media itself to present a constant stream of cleverly disguised propaganda - it would not be an exaggeration to call it brainwashing. This has been so successful that many members of the middle class are willing to vote against their own self interest.

Public Thought is now so thoroughly manipulated that Bernie Sander's Political Revolution will have to start by presenting an alternative to the powerful right-wing media.  Many of us rallied around Bernie's good ideas and felt that we were part of a movement - but alas, we are already progressives and a distinct minority. We have made a start, but we need to enlist many others, many of whom are believers in the right-wing ideology.  That means a long term campaign, mostly using social media since the corporate media will be opposing us. This revolution in thinking will depend on all of us working as individuals and in groups to be enlisting new supporters everywhere.  Conversing with friends, comments in social media - there are plenty of ways that we can make a difference. This article is one of my ways to contribute. It is important to note that our message is always best presented in a positive way even though we receive abusive comments from those who don't agree. Stupidity never knows that it is stupid and doesn't want to be told. The best approach is to find common ground and enroll from there.

We are not going to get this done in a few weeks nor perhaps even in the term of our next president.  But it is the only way that we are going to get the kind of country that will serve all of us and make us proud.  Bernie has promised that he will be providing leadership and direction.  His directions at the time of the Democratic Convention are to support and vote for Hillary Clinton.  This has not been well received by some of his followers, but he is right. To reach the goal of the Political Revolution, we must advance one step at a time.  The first stepping stone is to get Hillary elected.

We must appreciate that, no matter who is elected president, they will not be able to make very many changes initially.  I think there are some Bernie people who share a common desire with the Trump people - they want to see a strong leader come into the presidency and start fixing things. But it doesn't really work that way in our current government.

The minimum that we need from our next president is: appointment of progressive Supreme Court justices; maintenance of existing social programs like Social Security and Medicare; vetoing destructive legislation from an opposition congress; and advancement of any of the issues that inspired us during the campaign assuming that the political climate so permits.  If that president could also participate in the public awaking that we need as part of the revolution, that would be a bonus.

So why does Bernie want us to vote for Hillary? Well, simply because there is no reasonable alternative.  If we vote for a third party candidate, that candidate WON'T WIN.  And we run the strong chance that Trump will win.  There is a certain amount of Ego present in those who will vote against Hillary - "well, I have principles and did the right thing". We need to take a longer range view.  If Hillary is elected, Bernie can lead us forward towards the Political Revolution.  If she isn't elected, all bets are off.....

Here are some of the organizations that Bernie is founding to further the revolution: What's Next by Bernie Sanders

Jul 4, 2014

Freedom – what in the world is it?

July 4, 2014 Rota, Cádiz, España

If you're like me, you frequently see images on Facebook with pictures of Ronald Reagan standing in front of an American flag with the caption in big type - “Freedom”. And probably down at the bottom there will be some smaller text with the message the authors really want you to accept.
And when I read the comments, I see quite a few knee-jerk reactions to the word “Freedom”.
OK duhh, who is against freedom? Not many of us, and yet we seem to take the word at face value without examining what it means. So let's look at it a bit.
Here in Europe, the word Freedom doesn't seem to come up nearly as often. But America was born as a nation of small merchants feeling strangled by the taxation and control of England. So the word got into our vocabulary and has remained as a high expression of patriotism.
So what does it mean? Well, I suppose the highest form of freedom is the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want. Sounds good, no? But what kind of world would that give us? To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, your right to swing your fist ends just short of your neighbor's nose. Yup, the other side of Freedom is Responsibility. The study of Ethics is all about resolving the right of the individual to act freely and the right of everyone else not to be harmed by that action. It is not a simple conversation...

It gets even more complicated when we move to “do whatever you want”. Hang with me on this one, please. Whatever we want should be pretty simple, no? I assert that what we want doesn't happen in a vacuum. It comes from the possibilities in our culture. Alas, ever since the emergence of mass culture supported by the media, maybe starting in the 1950's, Americans have been bombarded by misinformation provided by the public relations industry. Perhaps you have seen the series Mad Men? It shows the advertising industry as it began to feel its power at the beginning of the television age. The characters discuss ways to influence the thinking (and feelings) of the public about their products. I hate to say it, but public relations is all about distorting the truth to favor the client of the moment. That's a nice way of saying “lying”.
Now here is when we get back to the topic of Freedom again. I assert that during the Nixon years, when the flower children were taking to the streets, the Powers That Be got seriously alarmed at the radical change in public thought. And it didn't take a handful of millionaires very long to figure out that, for a few paltry millions each, they could fund activities of the new public relations industry and begin to influence public thought. I doubt that they ever really appreciated how powerful their efforts would be.
We have now seen three generations of Americans who have been subjected to an increasingly manipulated reality (at times Brainwashing is too strong a word, but in other cases it seems spot on). Having grown up in this brave new world, it always seemed natural to us and we cheerfully accepted the Orwellian social class – consumers. We were born into consuming and never thought to question whether materialism leads to a life we would like to live. Well, most of us didn't question it. So now we are conditioned to want things that our grandparents could have cheerfully lived without.
And just as surely as we have been taught to want products, we have also been taught to want certain political outcomes. Few of us are political scientists or sociologists and so the political outcomes that are paraded in front of us as the solution to all the nation's problems just get accepted, largely because they come from the media. We have an irrational trust for things that come from the media. This is strange because almost everything that comes from the media is a lie! Does X brand soap really get our clothes whiter than Y brand? Probably not, but they say it will.

So even what we think we want is shaped by the public relations industry. That is sobering, but to fully appreciate the truth of that statement is to begin to regain some freedom. So paradoxically, when we see the picture of Ronald Reagan in front of the American flag with the banner FREEDOM across the front, real freedom is the ability to realize that we are being manipulated and that reality is probably quite different than what the caption at the bottom of the graphic would assert.

Feb 25, 2014

The Ceremony - making every day Valentines Day (La Ceremonia - haciendo que todos los días sean San Valentín)

The Ceremony     (La Ceremonia en español debajo)

Quite by accident, I invented a romantic ritual that has become an essential part of the daily routine.  First, let me explain how it came about.  I was raised by English parents. Neither of them knew how to express love and affection.  As a result, I was almost never hugged or touched.  So I grew up a bit reserved when it came to expressing affection.  I have tried to overcome this all my life.  But the need became even more urgent when I entered a relationship with a Spanish woman who was the total opposite - warm, expressive, and very physical.  I was afraid that she would find me cold and unloving (which I am not once I get started).

So I invented The Ceremony.

So what is it?  It's a wordless way of saying "I love you" in a way that is undeniably true. At the most basic level it is a long naked hug. Yes, naked!  Skin to skin. Chest to chest, belly-buttons to belly-buttons. There is an energy that passes between bodies that is beautiful and for me has always been one of the most enjoyable components of sex.  But the Ceremony is not about sex.  Certainly sexual energy is present, but the intent and the actual result is to experience most directly the existence of We in a way that is normally not present in daily living. Given how important our relationships are for our happiness, a few moments dedicated to just being together is a very good investment of time.

Let me describe possible ways to practice the Ceremony in more detail.  It is probably best to do it in the morning upon awaking (although repetitions at night are not penalized).  We allow at least 15 minutes which means that, if we have to get up to catch an airplane at 3 AM, we set the alarm for 2:45.  The Ceremony is sacred and I doubt if we have missed it more than a few days in a year. I like a little baroque music in the background - streaming www.sundaybaroque.org on my phone provides the ambiance.  Then you just melt into each other's arms.  There are no rules, but usually it is better if you don't talk. Just feel the energy and transmit love. Since we are retired, we don't usually have to rush out in the morning, so we may linger in bed for quite a while.  You can fall asleep in each others arms; or talk; or give caresses, or maybe it leads to sex. But the end result is something so gratifying that it is the highlight of the day.  It is hard to have a bad day after such a good beginning.  And my lady never feels that I am too cold and "English".

Let me mention sex here because although older people find the Ceremony mildly arousing sexually, younger people, especially men, will certainly become fully aroused at once.  That is natural and not a problem. Adolescent men have had to learn to ignore arousal.  In the Ceremony, being aroused is just there in the background. But for the Ceremony to be about love, the man needs to avoid trying to change the subject. Sometimes the most loving thing a man can do is to not push for sex. That said, the energy between the two people will be what it is and there will be many times when moving on to full sexual expression is the most natural thing and all the more sweet because it starts in an expression of love.

I recommend trying this for a week and see what happens.

La Ceremonia (disculpan mi castellano)

Por accidente, inventé un ritual romántico que se ha convertido en una parte esencial de nuestra rutina diaria. En primer lugar, permítanme explicar cómo se produjo. Yo fui criado por padres ingleses. Ninguno de ellos sabía cómo expresar amor y afecto. Como resultado, casi nunca me abrazaban ni me tocaban. Así que crecí un poco reservado cuando se trataba de expresar afecto. He tratado de superar esto toda mi vida. Pero la necesidad se hizo aún más urgente cuando entré en una relación con una mujer española que era todo lo contrario - cálido, expresivo y muy físico. Tenía miedo de que me encontrara frío y sin amor, ya que yo no soy así.

Así que me inventé la Ceremonia.

Entonces, ¿qué es? Es una manera de decir sin palabras "te amo" de una manera que es innegable. En el nivel más básico, es un abrazo largo piel con piel. Sí, desnudo!  Los pechos con los pechos, ombligo contra ombligo.  Hay una energía que pasa entre los dos cuerpos que es mágico y para mí siempre ha sido uno de los componentes más agradables del sexo. Pero la Ceremonia no se trata de sexo. Ciertamente que la energía sexual está presente, pero la intención y el resultado real es experimentar más directamente la existencia de Nosotros de una manera que no está presente en la vida diaria. Considerando la importancia de nuestras relaciones personales para nuestra felicidad, unos momentos dedicados solamente a estar juntos es una muy buena inversión de tiempo.

Permítanme describir posibles maneras de practicar la ceremonia con más detalle . Probablemente es mejor que hacerlo en la mañana al despertar (aunque las repeticiones en la noche no se penalice). Permitimos que por lo menos 15 minutos, lo cual quiere decir que, si hay que levantarse para coger un avión a las 03:00, hay que definir una alarma para 02:45. La ceremonia es sagrada y dudo que hemos perdido más de un par de días en un año. Me gusta un poco de música barroca en el fondo - "streaming" www.sundaybaroque.org en mi teléfono proporciona el ambiente . A continuación, sólo se derriten en los brazos del otro . No hay reglas, pero por lo general es mejor si usted no habla . Solamente siente la energía y transmitir el amor. Ya que estamos jubilados y no tenemos que salir corriendo por la mañana, podemos permanecer en la cama por un buen rato. Usted puede quedarse dormido en los brazos del otro, o hablar, o dar caricias, o tal vez conduce al sexo. Pero el resultado final es algo tan gratificante que es lo más destacado del día . Es difícil tener un mal día después de un buen comienzo tan agradable. Y mi señora nunca se siente que soy demasiado frío e "Inglés "

Permítanme mencionar el sexo aquí porque aunque las personas mayores encuentran la Ceremonia ligeramente estimulante para relaciones sexuales, las personas más jóvenes, especialmente los hombres, sin duda se convertirá totalmente excitado con el contacto físico. Eso es natural y no es un problema. Hombres adolescentes han tenido que aprender a ignorar la excitación. En la Ceremonia, la excitación puede existir en el fondo. Pero para la Ceremonia de ser sobre el amor, el hombre necesita intentar evitar el cambio de tema. A veces lo más amoroso que un hombre puede hacer es no presionar por sexo. Dicho esto, la energía entre las dos personas será lo que es, y habrá muchos momentos en los que de pasar a la expresión sexual plena será la cosa más natural y aún más dulce porque comienza en una expresión de amor.

Recomiendo probar esto por una semana y ver qué pasa .

Feb 24, 2014

On Terrorism....

The War on Terrorism is another of the failed domestic wars from our government, along with "wars" on drugs, poverty, etc.  But it has destroyed the constitutional rights that made our country a source of pride.

Wikipedia defines terrorism as violence conducted for a political purpose.  It first began to be called that in the 1850s and since then has had a growing impact, especially since the arrival of television and mass media. I assert that terrorism will continue to exist wherever there are desperate people who want their message to be heard and don't have access to mass media.  Now that terrorism is a known technique, there is no way that it is going away.  Like it or not, terrorism is going to be with us forever.  And no government activity is going to change that.

Like all governments, after 9/11 ours wanted to convince us that they were going to do everything possible to prevent another such occurrence.  And with the Patriot Act and subsequent changes, they tell us that we are now safer. But in the process they have managed to eliminate most of the rights provided by the constitution to protect the individual from the government.  I will not comment on the growing body of evidence showing that 9/11 was a staged event except to note that it gave the government an excuse to eliminate a lot of civil rights that were a burden to the plans of the military-industrial complex and the highly profitable national security industry.

If we really wanted to get rid of terrorism, there is one sure way to do it.  If we had a global agreement between all possible sources of media that there will be no reporting whatsoever on terrorist attacks or activities, terrorism would virtually cease to exist.  There are few people bloodthirsty enough to want to kill innocent people if they will not get attention from doing so.  Of course, terrorist attacks are very "newsworthy" and a source of profit for the media, so we won't hold our collective breaths for that solution.

But since terrorism isn't going to go away, what about our lost civil rights?

I assert that we cannot continue as we are with our government running amok, spying on virtually everyone in the world; ordering the murder of individuals that it "believes" to be enemies; intervening in the affairs of other sovereign nations; all on the pretext that all of that is necessary to protect our citizens from terrorism.  It is not pleasant to realize that a survey done in most of the nations of the civilized world has shown that the United States is considered to be the greatest existing danger to world peace.  You would never come to that conclusion listening the the American media, but living in Europe we have another vantage point.

Since terrorism is here to stay, we need to restore the civil rights that have been taken away while conducting activities to protect the citizens in an intelligent way.  What do I mean by that?  We have to see that there is a cost/benefit consideration at work.  Yes, we need to screen airline passengers.  There is an obvious benefit in traveler safety.  But there is also a significant cost in lost time and inconvenience - as well as issues of personal privacy.  We need to accept that we cannot, on a day-to-day basis, do everything possible to eliminate terrorism.  And that means a certain acceptance of risk.  It is unpleasant to contemplate, but do we want to suspend civil liberties forever to eliminate some casualties? How many more casualties would we have if we had the civil liberties we grew up with?  There is a balance between casualties and freedom that is difficult to reach.

I assert that our best course is to return to the constitutional rights that we have enjoyed since the enactment of the Bill of Rights.  And then we need to take all the intelligent precautions possible given those untouchable rights.  For instance, since we seem to be having terrorist attacks from single Islamic individuals between 18 and 40 years old, then to not give such persons extra attention in screening is just plain stupid.  Sure you can call it "profiling", but to body searches on an 85 year old grandmother from Duluth just so that you can do body searches on everybody is just plain dumb.

I personally am willing to assume some extra risk in order to have civil liberties. Ultimately, if we keep losing civil liberties and the government becomes more repressive, we are in danger of having more domestic terrorists - that is what the government will call anyone who tries to resist it.  The government seems to be anticipating that, having bought the Dept. of Homeland Security enough bullets to kill everyone on earth.  I do not know if the vacant internment camps shown on the internet are in fact part of some government plan. I didn't start out as a conspiracy theorist, but the evidence keeps growing.  The revelations of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange cannot be easily dismissed.  My greatest concern is with the willingness to quickly define those who disagree with the government and want to protest as terrorists.

As individuals, our only way to return to our constitutional liberties is to continue to speak out and demand that change.  We need to make that an issue in elections.  Our government is no longer very democratic, but if the demand is great enough, eventually it will respond.

Feb 21, 2014

Ideas to repair a broken system....

February 21, 2014  Rota, Spain
I am assuming that you share my conviction that the United States has become a nation that requires some serious repairs.  I think about this a lot and finally decided to put down some concrete suggestions.  I'll present them as problems and proposed solutions. To cover this much ground in a blog, I can't be academically rigorous. These ideas are offered in a general form to those with open minds. The opinionated may not agree.
The philosophy that is the basis for the following suggestions is simply that I believe that government must exist to serve the public - all the public.
Big Money has corrupted our political process to the point that it no longer represents nor serves ordinary people:
As a first step to eliminate systemic corruption, we need to free our politicians from the need to accumulate huge campaign funds in order for them to win elections. Even the most ethical politician has little chance of election unless he/she accepts money with strings attached,  Most of our current legislators spend an inordinate amount of their working time on fundraising.  In addition to eliminating donations to politicians we need to prevent our elected officials from getting all their information from lobbyists.  Here are some ideas:
1) There shall be no campaign contributions to any individual politician.  Acceptance of direct contributions shall be a criminal act. Contributions to political parties shall remain legal but all such contributions shall be registered publicly.  Political parties will disburse funds to their candidates as best serves the electoral strategies of the party.  In no case shall a contribution from a corporation or individual exceed $5000.
2) General elections shall occur no more than two months from the primary elections.
3) Television and radio political messages shall be provided at no cost by the media companies as part of the cost of using public airwaves.  Time and support shall be provided equally to all candidates.  Clearly this will reduce considerably the quantity of political advertising, giving the candidates only enough time to define their positions on key issues and to present their qualifications.  Negative advertising shall not be allowed.  Paid advertising on behalf of candidates from persons or organizations who wish to influence the election shall not be allowed.
4) The voting process, whether traditional or electronic, shall be conducted only by public agencies with scrutiny from representatives of the political parties.  No part of the electoral process shall be contracted to private companies.
5) Presidential elections shall be conducted as a popular vote.  The Electoral College shall cease to exist.
6) Elected officials shall document all public contacts, whether in their offices or in private social events.  This record shall be available on their webpages for review by their constituents.  That would include listing their golfing partners...
7) General lobbying shall cease to exist.  Politicians will not receive private visits from persons outside their constituencies unless that person has direct business with a constituent.  In cases where politicians need to be informed by corporation/s in order to vote on an issue, such presentations shall be made in public meeting rooms.  In the event that national security is involved and such meetings can not be open to the public, then there shall be a representative of the Department of Justice present to ensure that no illicit offers are made. The Dept. of Justice shall monitor the activities of politicians and those who have private contacts with lobbyists shall be reported on their own websites and in the event of a repeat, shall be removed from office.
8) Agencies within the Administrative branch responsible for regulating in the public interest shall not employ persons who have ever worked in businesses that are being regulated by the agencies.  Those who currently exist shall be transferred.
9) I saw an article somewhere on the web that had an idea that would reduce the impact of lobbying.  It would create a new webpage for every new bill proposed in Congress.  It would work like Wikipedia where many authors could contribute, but whenever a contribution turns out to be not true, it is deleted.  In time, the comments that are supported by facts will remain.  Since much lobbying is based on lies that are not discovered by the general public, they will not be able to force their viewpoint into the comments.
Obviously, the above list of changes would have huge resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.  None of this is likely to happen given our current circumstances.  However, it serves us to create a list such as this to see that there are some possible options.  Without dialogue we are unlikely to change anything.
In the interest of brevity, I have listed simple solutions and it may not be clear why some of the items were presented.  I leave it to the considerations of the reader.  In truth, all of the numbered items above could have been better presented with several pages of discussion - but then who would want to read that?
Our National Defense has become a for-profit enterprise which has caused our government to conduct military activities that are not in the interest of the American public.
In no case should military activity be conducted by an organization that will profit from that activity. I assert that our national defense is best executed by persons who have no financial stake in military activity and who have taken an oath to defend the constitution - as sworn by all regular military personnel down to the lowliest soldier.
1) The United States shall not contract for any military services whether those services are actual mercenary services as seen in Iraq, the gathering of information to be used by the military, or any other service.  All such services shall be performed by uniformed active-duty personnel who have taken an oath to defend the constitution.  In the absence of qualified personnel, a program of training and recruitment shall be established with compensation adequate to attract talented staff.
2) Procurement of weapons systems shall be based on the defense of the United States against actual or potential military danger based on the following military mission:
3) The Department of Defense shall be just that - for the purpose of defense from external danger.  That shall not include threats to the interests of American corporations abroad.  Nor shall any part of the Department of Defense intervene in the affairs of foreign sovereign states.
4) The Department of Defense shall meticulously account for all public funds - there shall be no secret budgets for black ops.  Given the huge amounts of money involved, the Department of Justice shall establish a section to audit military budgets and to scrutinize commercial contacts of the military.
Our Financial and Banking system has evolved into a system that benefits a small elite while creating significant risks to the world economy and harming ordinary citizens.
Few of us really understand the complexities of the financial system.  I assert that this is intentional and serves to obscure malfeasance.  I propose the following:
1) There shall be no financial instruments that cannot be understood by a 12 year old.  That would eliminate derivatives, credit default swaps, and any number of other arcane instruments.
2) Banks shall return to the traditional definition of banks - guarding savings of the citizens, facilitating payment of debts, and making loans.  Investment of the customer's savings shall not be a part of the definition.
3) Debt shall not be bundled and sold.  In the event of the sale of a mortgage or other such instrument, the sale shall be done on a one-at-a-time basis with the buyer receiving documents showing exactly what property and persons are involved.
4) The agencies responsible for supervision of the financial system shall be purged of industry insiders. Such supervision shall be vigorously conducted in the interests of the general public.
5) A study by leading economists shall be launched to examine possible options to the Federal Reserve and possible ways to return to a currency backed by something of tangible value (like a kilowatt of energy).
Our system of trade relations with other nations benefits multinational corporations while harming ordinary citizens.
The corporations have used their political connections to alter our trade relations under the ideology of the benefits of Globalization.  This has proven to be a huge benefit to those corporations, emerging nations, and shipping companies.  It has proven to be a disaster for the American middle-class.
1) Return to a limited system of tariffs to remove the advantage of using cheap foreign labor and reward production and manufacturing in the United States.
2) Eliminate existing trade agreements not in the interests of the general public.
3) Make the health of the middle-class the guiding principle in trade relations.
Corporations have acquired a power and immunity from legal control that gravely harms the general public.
Corporate corruption is endemic without consequences for the corporation or it's officers.  It would appear that corporate ethics are primarily based on profits for the shareholders.
1) Congress shall enact a system of laws defining criminal corporate behavior and associated penalties. These shall be based on the best interests of the general public.
2) Corporate officers shall be held personally responsible for corporate behavior with criminal sanctions when justified.
3) Actual or attempted influence of the political process shall have legal sanctions and penalties.




Dec 3, 2010

On Corporations

December 2, 2010 Rota, Spain

I have been ranting of late about the degree to which our government is now totally controlled by corporations and the mega-wealthy. But my ideas are not all that original. Here are some warnings about corporations from political leaders and thinkers dating back to the beginning of our republic:

Thomas Jefferson—“I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

Abraham Lincoln in 1864—“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. …corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” (1864)

Theodore Roosevelt—“The citizens of the United States must control the mighty commercial forces which they themselves call into being.”

Woodrow Wilson—“Big business is not dangerous because it is big, but because its bigness is an unwholesome inflation created by privileges and exemptions which it ought not to enjoy.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt—“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

Dwight Eisenhower, farewell address—“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

And after that much wisdom, what more can I say?

Jan 22, 2010

Burning Questions of our Time

January 22, 2010 Rota, Spain
In the previous article, I suggested that the mark of true intellect may not be the quality of ones assertions, but rather the quality of the questions that one raises. Now I'm not claiming the title of "True Intellect" and so I am hoping that you will help out here by contributing to this list. I'll put up a few starter questions:

1) How should our republic handle Corporations? There were none at our founding and our constitution makes no provision for them. They have managed to assume ever increasing control over the machinery of government and the mass media for their own benefit. I can't see where they have any particular responsibility for the well-being of the citizenry.

2) If a democracy depends upon an informed citizenry, then how can we ensure that our citizens receive accurate, unbiased information upon which to base their votes? Public relations - the manipulation of public thought for a purpose has become a science where money applied to professional opinion shaping can produce a desired result for some client. But if votes can be influenced by the application of money - is that democracy?

3) Our federal government seems to be characterized by gridlock - not only partisan wrangling, but the inability to even understand the issues that need resolution. Reform of the financial system; what to do with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; how to salvage Social Security; how to reduce spiraling health care costs? These are not only political questions - they are also complx technical questions - beyond the scope of the average citizen and generally beyond the abilities of elected officials as well. In a perfect world, where government acts in the best interests of the citizens, not just satisfying the interests of those who throw money at the political machine, in that perfect world how can the best solutions be identified? Is there some way we can assemble a brain trust to apply the best thinking available to our challenging problems? Is there some way politically that those solutions could actually be put into practice - even though some special interests might object?
In a complex and rapidly changing world, it appears that China might have an advantage in identifying solutions and putting them into practice quickly. Since accurate and rapid decisions leading to action give a strong competitive advantage, how can a democratic society compete with a technocracy???

Oct 23, 2009

On Ideology

Friday, October 23, 2009 Rota, Spain

Of late, I find that I am increasingly concerned about the degree to which political ideology is dividing us from one another. We all would like a world that works - with justice, a high degree of personal freedom, and a fair distribution of wealth. And yet, from small groups of citizens all the way to the halls of government, our conversations about how to achieve a just world are marked by acrimony and polarization based on our varying ideologies.

Let’s step back a bit and take a look at ideology itself. I would define ideology as a belief system about the nature of political reality. Please read that sentence again before going on.  I assert that reality, as it applies to the world of politics, is chaotic and messy. It is constantly in flux and very hard to capture in words – just like any other part of reality beyond our immediate senses. It is easy and tempting to formulate or embrace beliefs about the nature of reality. We all want to feel that we know what is going on around us. But, from an epistemological standpoint, belief is a rather low order of knowledge.

Being human, we would like to find a way to generalize in such a way to be able to talk about political reality. Here is where we get into trouble. Since we can’t directly perceive the way components in the political sphere interact with one another, we must make generalizations about cause and effect without really being able to verify those causes by direct experience. I have met some younger people who have decided to ignore politics entirely because of the uncertainty (and bad behavior on the part of their elders).

But as citizens, we are called upon from time to time to take actions in the political sphere, at the very least by actively voting. We are forced to choose between candidates or to decide whether or not a particular proposal will move society closer to our ideal. We must make these choices on the basis of far too little information. We read the papers, watch TV, talk to friends and are bombarded by theories about political reality - if we vote for X, it will cause Y to happen. But in reality, it often takes years before the consequences of some political action become apparent.

This is frustrating. It is human to want to understand reality better and paradoxically, the desire to understand can lead us into dependence on ideology – to embrace belief systems about political reality. This is a kind of political religion where we find others who agree with us that something is true although we can’t really see it directly. Political religion has its high priests – authors and commentators who earn a good living making messy reality easier to understand through simplification, generalization, and creating theories of causation. They write books, create slogans, invent formulas for how the world can be saved by rejecting certain political actions, and so forth. The worst part is they don’t limit themselves to suggesting theories on political causation, but move beyond that to suggest that those who believe in “our” particular form of political religion are good and those who don’t are bad. This divides us in a most unhealthy way.

Now, the consumers of this political religion are motivated by the desire to be better citizens and to better understand their world, a really noble motivation that I do not wish to impugn. The alternative to embracing political religion is to be willing to stand in mystery – to accept that we do not know - and yet be constantly attempting to come closer to reality by staying abreast of current events and by studying all kinds of political thought without necessarily believing in any of it. This is difficult to do for most of us. A truly independent thinker will seem a dullard in a debate with an ideologist because the ideologist has developed a system of thinking about his topic and has defended it against all perceived alternative ways of thinking. The independent thinker may in fact have a better grasp of reality, but will not be able to assert it with the force and conviction of the ideologist.

I assert that it is healthy, in a topic as vague as political reality, to be willing to hold a high level of self-doubt. I have always recognized a genuine intellect, not by the force of its convictions, but by the quality of the questions it raises. By seeing the quality of the questions with which the intellect grapples, I get a sense of the breadth of the intellect’s perception – how wide is the horizon for that individual? Having a broad view of reality usually indicates a person’s dedication to learning and grappling with questions without having to draw immediate conclusions. The ideologist is unable to resist the impulse to draw conclusions and in so doing terminates the learning process. I assert that the ideologist is more concerned with having the answers and being right about them than understanding reality. Let me hasten to assure that when I discuss Ideology, I am not discussing Ethics. Folks on different sides of an ideological position will often be coming from the same ethical basis - i.e. we all value a strong family. But the political question of how to create an environment for healthy families can result in wildly different answers, depending on the ideology applied (political belief systems).

Now I suspect that most of my readers, having gotten this far, are by now thoroughly insulted, disgusted, or angry. Politics is a hot topic today and few of us are immune to the heat. So to better illustrate what I am talking about; let’s move to a parallel universe to try to get away from the heat. That universe is economics, specifically the stock market, since that is one place where you can get measurable results from your ability to understand economic reality.

Now the economy is every bit as chaotic and messy as politics. Listening to economists talk, it is pretty clear that they don’t have it all figured out. But let’s limit ourselves to the stock market because there we can get results from our belief systems or lack thereof.

I invest in the market and so every day I read web pages about investing while checking the status of the markets. I find plenty of paid commentators who are eager to explain the complicated workings of the market and make it understandable to my less sophisticated mind. The problem is that, on any given day I can find a commentator who will tell me that the market is going up and another commentator who will tell me that the market is going down. These folks get paid to offer their opinions, but which of them do I follow? Well, some investors find their favorites, I suppose. And then of course, there are lots of theories about how to play the market – market religions we might say. For example, there are those who believe in technical analysis and make all their decisions based on the movements of the daily charts.

Now, in the past few years, I have had some success in the market. I’m not a bold investor, but have enjoyed some nice returns when the market was rising. Of course, anyone can make money when the market is rising. You can apply the goofiest theories around and still make money. The real test comes just before a market crash. As it turns out, I have managed to sell everything just before all the major market downturns. I watched my friends lose big chunks of their net worth during the dot-com debacle. I couldn’t advise them to sell, because I couldn’t articulate exactly why I had decided to sell. To call it a hunch would be to undervalue the process. The fact is that I had been reading and following the markets closely as well as following current events. I wasn’t necessarily believing the commentators, but I was listening to all of them and making my own decisions about the way the market would go. And finally, my gut told me it was time to sell.

Now the reason I point this out is simply to try to use an example of relating to reality without depending on ideology. You can’t aggressively assert why you are acting, but somehow your brain has taken input from many sources and has synthesized a “hunch”.

It is the same in the domain of politics. It is hard to understand political reality with the clarity that one understands the physical reality that is in front of us. When we are surrounded with people who believe in some kind of political religion, it is hard to stand apart and to be willing to not know the answers. But, I assert that we are better served and our nation is better served for us to do exactly that.

In a future essay, I propose to list what I perceive as the burning questions of our day and invite others to add to the list. From this, we might be able to find the basis for some stimulating conversations.