Thursday, August 31, 2017

No, "Whiteness" is Not Under Attack

...White Privilege is.

The White Supremacist march and Heather Heyer's murder ripped the bandage off a still-open wound in America:  racial hate.  The backlash against anyone that equivocated on the issue, up to and including our president, was immediate and clarion-clear.  No.  Just, no.  But, with almost Newtonian precision, the equal and opposite reaction inevitably came.

There is a small, but insistent counterpoint in America that asserts that "Whiteness" is under attack.  First of all, I'm not sure, and never have been, what "Whiteness" is supposed to entail.  But I do see the very real pinpoint pressure that is inevitably penetrating the white bubble.  And that is being met with strong resistance among many who don't want that bubble popped.

This article is for the ones in their bubbles.  From a white man who had his popped and lived to tell the tale.  My message: stop fighting it.

If I had to define "Whiteness" I suppose I would have to use the word naiveté.  Our history and heroes are carefully disinfected and sanitized to remove any of the warts of reality or controversy.  Our holidays and patriotic remembrances are purged of any burden of conscience.  And our systems are inoculated with isolated examples of transformation, just enough to let us off the hook.  And, sustained by this cocktail, we can walk through life with rose-colored glasses, completely blind to the much larger and more complex reality of the American fabric.

I've always struggled with my German heritage.  My family came to the US well before WWII and my grandparents served in the US Armed Forces during the war.  As an Army brat, I was raised in Germany on an American base, an army of occupation still, in a 2,000 year-old city surrounded by relics both ancient and modern.  I learned that Germans had not erased their national shame, but confronted it and placed it centrally in their culture, so to never repeat it.  It didn't make me proud, exactly.  More like determined.  

Then I moved back to the states.  And, for the first time in my life, I was relentlessly tormented as a "Nazi".  There was no explaining to these people that (a) I was an American, (b) came from a multi-generational family who served in the American military (c) modern Germans are more determinedly anti-fascist than they could conceive.  They wouldn't hear it.  I retreated socially and kept my head down until we were tapped to move to our next base.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I'd just had my first brush with "otherness".  

I don't tell you this to evoke your sympathy or to ingratiate myself to any person or group.  I say it because what I learned was the importance of confronting one's history head-on.  Of owning it.  Of realizing that it is beyond my power to take back from the pages of history, but it is my duty to both carry it forward and make sure those lessons are not forgotten or re-lived.

That's where American "whiteness" fails us all.  Instead of confronting and coming to terms with our history and its very real ongoing impacts to people of color, we sink into our bubbles.  We deny, deflect, and "whatabout" with ridiculous statements like "all lives matter" and - the absolute worst - "political correctness."  When you don't treat a wound, it festers.  It gets infected.  And your problems multiply beyond the point where the original wound is no longer even recognizable.

My white friends who are struggling with this often say "I shouldn't have to keep apologizing for something I never did!"  Yet they continue to celebrate their white-sanitized version of America, not realizing that their continued denial is, in itself, doing damage.  Let me explain something.  People of color don't want Bob Smith to apologize for the sins of your ancestors.  They want Bob Smith to acknowledge that those things happened and still happen today.  They want Bob Smith to be an ally.  When you wake up.  When you pop the bubble.  When you SHOW UP in support for people that are still struggling against institutional and cultural racism and acknowledge it for what it is, that whole "apologize for my ancestors" thing goes away.  Take it from a German.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Is the President a Racist?

SPOILER ALERT:  No, I truly don't think so.  But that shouldn't make you feel any better.

I'll get more to the president in a moment.  But first, let's lay a few things out there.

First, there's a big difference between the political spectrum of ideologies and actual legitimate political parties.  Let's have the sophistication to separate the two.  Not all ultra-conservative (reactionary) ideologies are related to (or welcome in) the Republican Party, just as not all ultra left-wing ideologies are related to (or welcome in) the Democrat party.  Sovereign Citizens, anarchists, eco-terrorists, Marxists, and other fringe ideologies do not have a foothold in either party.  Just because someone is classified as "far left" or "far right" in ideology doesn't merit legitimate actors and parties being pasted and smeared with their acts or words (Anybody who does is lying to and manipulating you and should not be trusted.)

Extremists on either end of the political spectrum are fundamentalists, with binary values (I'm right, and everyone else is wrong), and prone to violent expression (whether physical or just in rhetoric).  The "conventional" political spectrum, in which the Republican and Democrat parties operate are, in effect, the moderate middle (I know that's hard to believe).  Because, no matter how much we disagree, we all believe that participation in the processes and institutions of our Constitutional Democracy is the way to effect change.

Second, you either operate within the political apparatus (parties, PACs, votes) or outside of it.  There are people who have extreme ideologies who operate inside the apparatus, and those people tarnish anybody or any organization that suffers them.  David Duke espouses ideologies (white supremacy) that are FAR outside any party platform, but is tolerated within Republican circles.  That brings into legitimate question how tolerant the Republican Party is of such attitudes.  Conversely, there are moderate groups with mainstream ideology and sentiments that are not directly involved in party politics.  Non-profits, advocacy groups, churches: these are all examples of institutions that share certain ideologies but don't operate primarily in the political machine.

Recapping:  You can be an extremist insider or a moderate outsider or any combination of them.  It's important to understand where players are on the spectrum.

Third, let's be clear about the difference between violent political ideologies and incidents of opportunistic violence.  A march by the non-violent and social justice #BlackLivesMatter movement that is co-opted by hooligans and thugs is not the equivalent of anarchists or white supremacists harming people and property as a vehicle for their ideology.

Thanks for your patience.  Now to the matter at hand.

I do not believe the president is a racist.  That's no vindication; I actually believe that his inability to empathize with other human beings makes racism basically irrelevant to understanding him.  But he's the president, and he's accountable for the environment and people around him.  And that's where we get to the root of the current situation.  I said before that fringe groups are basically binary; so is the president (albeit for different reasons).  And therein lie the inescapable parallels and attraction between the two.

The president has inarguably surrounded himself with racists and advocates of racist (and generally hostile toward all marginalized groups) policies.  Bannon, Miller, Gorka, and Sessions have clear records and agendas.  No sugar coating it: they're straight-up racists.  There haven't been so many race-hostile people in the executive branch in decades, and that makes a clear statement.  He can't possibly distance himself from racism philosophically when he can't distance himself physically.

And then there's the president's policy agenda, starting, most significantly with his absolute determination to erase everything about this nation's first black president.  There is nothing that white nationalists want more than to eradicate Barack Obama's legacy from the annals of American history.  It's easily thrown off as pettiness (and to him it probably is), but make no mistake, this is a bright neon sign to those fringe so-called "alt-right" elements.  His "victims of Obamacare" charade is like a guestbook of aggrieved whiteness.

Simultaneously, in his "win or lose" brain, the president has bought in to key elements of the white nationalist "America under attack" mantra.  That is, immigrants from Central and South America, and Middle Eastern Muslims.  And he has laid down aggressive policy agendas to "fight back" against these false threats.  Again, he's gone so far as to create "victims lists" and "undesirable" lists and published them.  These policies are precisely the sort of "victories" that politically-minded fringes are looking for.

So, if he's not a racist (according to me, anyway) why won't he denounce, by name, the white supremacists who support him?

Those who have examined the president most closely describe him has having an insatiable need to be adored.  That's why he loves the rallies so much.  It's why he also constantly speaks in superlatives.  That hole will never be filled, no matter how much money he makes, how many buildings bear his name, or how many votes he gets.  It will never be enough.  Many have posited that the president might be a "useful idiot" to Putin.  That has yet to be proven.  But, undoubtedly, he is being used as a vehicle for white nationalist/supremacist ideologues, in return for their adoration.

The president is binary, win/lose.  And right now, he's losing.  His popularity is historically, stunningly low.  Who's sticking with him, though?  The nationalists.  He can't let go; that would be admitting defeat.  He's trapped, both by his own psychosis and the team he put around him.  But those nationalists are also operating freely and openly through the edges (but definitely inside) of the Republican political apparatus (see Iowa Congressman, Steve King, for example).  They've been quietly, distastefully tolerated, because they bring votes and money.  They have a seat at the table, even though nobody will admit they invited them.  And that's the ugly elephant in the room for Republicans (no pun intended).

Bottom Line:

There is no place for hate or violence in America in 2017.  The First Amendment gives you the right to spew this garbage, fine.  I served to defend that right.  But let's not kid ourselves.  It doesn't belong here.  And nobody who espouses hate or violence, for any reason in any form, should have a welcome seat in any mainstream political group.

Any reasonable, semi-informed person (let alone seasoned political operative) should be able to distinguish between extremist and mainstream ideology.  Likewise everyone should be able to distinguish between politically-motivated violence and opportunistic rage.  And if you can recognize it, you can tell the difference between righteous condemnation and ridiculous smear tactics.

It should be easy, therefore, to reject and condemn extremism and violence, no matter what your party affiliation or ideology.  Nobody should think for a moment that rejecting white supremacists should have any political implication.  But when the rats are in your midst, it gets a lot harder to deal with the traps.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Why Did Liberals Lose the Working Class?

Of all of the narratives perpetuated by the conservative media machine, the most damaging (and mystifying) has got to be that liberals and Democrats don't care about the "little guy," the working class.  When it comes to policy record, it couldn't be clearer that massive corporate interests are in the driver's seat in conservative circles, yet somehow the working class narrative sticks.  How did we get here?  How do we set the record straight?  I have a few ideas.

1. The "Spectator-ization" of the American Electorate
There are a lot of different ways to be involved in policy-making.  Running for office is just one (and the most specialized) way.  During the 20th century, being a union member was the best way for individual Americans to be directly involved in influencing policy that affected them.  It was real, it was concrete to observe conditions in the workplace, hiring and firing practices, and, of course, wages, and to say "this isn't right."  Unions provided a direct conduit to corporate leaders and, importantly, the political structure, to address grievances and improve conditions.  More often than not, unions found friends in the Democrat party.

But things have changed.  Union memberships are down significantly (about 33%) across the country.  And, in their decline, corporate interests have been able to pass right-to-work laws across 28 states.  Not surprisingly, these are "Red states" where the pro-business Republicans were only too happy to ingratiate themselves to their benefactors.

The result of this trend has been to make politics and policy less relevant to individual Americans.  They have become spectators to a process they used to help shape. And, with that, has come the hollowing out of the core participating base of the Democrat party.

Enter: Citizens United.  Corporate interests didn't stop by disenfranchising tens of millions of voters from direct participation in the democratic process (not elections - the democratic process of governing).  They wanted even more influence.  And that means buying it.  Election after election, the spending totals spiral more and more out of reach of ordinary Americans.

We now consume politics through cable news, rather than our daily life.  We are spectators, watching so-called "elites" take all the power and money and making all the decisions.  And, with each iteration of the cycle, the Republican/Corporate machine sinks its claws in deeper.  And, likewise, wage inequality gets worse and worse.

2. The False Conservative Narrative
If conditions have materially worsened during the progress of the Corporate-Republican march, how is it that the average American hasn't turned away?  Well, once direct participation through union membership waned, they were able to re-shape the narrative and, in so doing, invent new narratives to keep people focused on other villains.  And their villains of choice?  Globalization and Immigration.  It's worked beautifully.  Ask almost any conservative voter and they will tell you the reason their pay and benefits stink are because of one or both of those two factors.  Heck, ask many liberal voters and you'll probably hear something similar.  "Those people" are taking our jobs and doing it for cheap.  And who is going to tell you any different?  Who has direct, first-hand knowledge of what goes on behind closed doors?  Too few.

3. Very Real Change 
As powerful as the decline of unions and a strong narrative have been, the Corporate/Republican machine didn't orchestrate the whole thing.  The last twenty years have powerfully and irreversibly transformed the drivers of our economy at a scale that hasn't been seen since the Industrial Revolution.  And we haven't kept up.  20th century institutions that built this nation (like coal and internal combustion vehicles) are waning.  And, like a drowning man, they are determined to grab onto anything or anyone, no matter the consequences, to stay afloat.  The real victims in all of that climate of denial have been the men and women employed by those industries.  With no advocates to ensure a transition, people are left to fend for themselves.  I don't care how you vote, that kind of existential threat to your ability to feed your family is scary as hell.  And that kind of desperation has led to extreme factions on the left and right.

A New Promise
The DNC has unveiled their new message.  They call it "A Better Deal."  Nobody asked me or I would have told them that "Promise 21" would have been better branding, but I digress.  The point is, it's time to acknowledge the set of factors that got us here, what we are facing, and remind people who actually is trying to put policy and protection in place that serves and protects the American Worker.

I don't know if labor unions will bounce back.  I don't know if they should in this new landscape.  But whether they do or not, people need to come back to politics.  They need to show up at party meetings and shape the conversation.  They need to see that they have a voice in the process and an advocate in the Democrat Party.  Because getting improved conditions, wages, and support for every American worker is not a spectator sport.  It doesn't filter down from the "elites" at the top.  It starts at the bottom.  And, as we look to the next wave of prosperity leading us into a new and transformed American economy, we need to make sure that working people have a voice and a seat at the table.

Because, at the end of the day, do you want someone representing you who took tens of thousands of dollars from companies with an axe to grind, or do you want that person to be accountable to you?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

ICYMI: Sliding Toward Authoritarianism

I try to be a measured observer.  Even when I agree with people, philosophically, I tend to veer away from alarmist rhetoric.  The sky, most of the time, isn't actually falling.

But I find myself genuinely and unshakably alarmed.  Amidst the salacious and shiny personal scandals that seem to arise almost daily, a number of stories have continued to trickle out that, frankly, make my spider senses tingle.  You probably lost them in all the noise.

There's an ongoing debate about whether our president is an Authoritarian.  People often point to his tendency to praise foreign dictators.  Is it his personality (or its deficiencies), his governing philosophy, or perhaps his core beliefs?  Some combination of the three? In my judgement, it doesn't matter all that much what's driving it; it's the outcomes that matter.  And those outcomes, increasingly and in accumulation, point to an alarming trend of, brick by brick, the construction of an authoritarian state.

As always, I leave it to you, the reader, to form your own assessment.  Here's what I see.

The consolidation of power to a concentrated few (with leverage)
The failure of the Trump administration to appoint dozens of sub-cabinet leadership positions has been the subject of much reporting (so I won't link).  Above that, they have dismissed career officials (dubbed the deep state) across the executive branch without replacing them.  Those he has appointed, to a one, have deep conflicts of interest with the programs over which they preside. Many have significant allegations of corrupt action in their past, often in direct relation with those programs.  This makes these select few especially beholden to their chief executive.

A concentrated effort to obscure
From removing website content, to gag orders on federal employees, to withholding visitor logs, to omitting contacts with foreign officials and their representatives, to blatantly, repeatedly, and intentionally lying to the public, this administration has clearly articulated its position that it is not answerable to the American people.  Its obsession with so-called "leaks" belies its belief that secrecy FROM the constituents it represents is a top priority.

The establishment of a propaganda arm
When the former Communications Director, Boris Epshteyn, joined a largely-unknown Sinclair Media, it was a "shrug moment."  Since then, however, Sinclair, it's broadcast affiliates, and it's digital arm, Circa, have steadily pumped out a pure, synchronized Trumpian narrative.  It's basically the Sputnik/Pravda/RT for the Trump White House.  All the while, they hammer away at the "fake news media," despite the fact that, over and over again, their reporting holds up under pressure.   It is one thing to disagree on the interpretation of common facts.  It is quite another to reject objective reality and substitute it with a political fiction.

An attempt to co-opt law enforcement
In a recent interview with the New York Times, the president admitted he believes the FBI director should report directly to him.  Imagine the resources of a nationwide internal security force placed at the direct whim of a man who has a long-documented pattern of settling scores with his "enemies."  The demand for the dramatic expansion of DHS agents under Customs and Border Patrol, as well as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), already feels like the beginnings of a police state.  It should be noted that, in authoritarian regimes across the world, internal security and secret police forces are the most feared, responsible for hunting down and jailing political opponents and dissidents.

The abridgment of due process
In the name of action toward illegal immigrants, this administration has set up so-called "rapid reaction forces" and "streamlined procedures" for ICE.  These terms are shorthand for circumventing the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.  In this country, EVERYONE operates under the presumption of innocence and is entitled to all aspects of due process.  These "streamlined" actions, however, instead presume guilt and strip people of their rights to representation and trial.  The Muslim Ban on travel and immigration also presumed guilt of those already lawfully admitted to the country and deprived them of due process (as pointed out by the federal courts).
 
Defining an "undesirable class" (or several)
Through rhetoric and policy, this administration has plainly set its sights on a number of non-white groups.  By intertwining undocumented immigrants (and sometimes not even bothering with the 'undocumented' distinction) with rapists, murderers, and gang members, the President is openly asking white Americans to look with suspicion at anyone with brown skin.  By conflating the TINY number of jihadi mujaheddin with the remainder of a BILLION muslims across the world, the president has encouraged white Americans to fear anybody with a beard or head scarf.  He WANTS you to be suspicious and afraid of these "undesirables" and to beg him to help save you from their unsavory appetites.  Every dictator needs a clearly defined enemy.  Add to that the series of decisions that strip equal status and protection for LGBTQ Americans.

Attacking the Democratic Process Itself
The president's claim of three to five million illegal and fraudulent votes post-election seemed like a laughable ego trip.  But the establishment of a Presidential Commission has upped the ante significantly.  Staffing it with conspiracy-promoting fringe types and granting it data-gathering power over the entire electorate is a breathtaking move.  If you operate from the presumption that there are a large number of people on the roles who don't deserve to be and put the force of the DOJ behind it, you can reshape the electorate in any way you like and make Putin-like proclamations about the "real" level of support of opposition to any candidate or official.  You can also proactively focus your money, agenda, and narrative against anyone who emerges that appears to threaten your regime.

And, finally, an attempt to circumvent the constitutional military order through the establishment of a private mercenary army.
In the turmoil of the daily circus that has become the news cycle, an incredible story emerged and was quickly lost in the froth.  In July, Steve Bannon, Chief Strategist to the president, took a proposal to the Secretary of Defense suggesting that a private army made up of mercenaries from around the world should be established to carry out military action in Afghanistan.  The fact that this proposal was rejected by Secretary Mattis is hardly comforting.  It is unlikely in the extreme that Bannon would have made this step without consulting (and getting at least tacit approval from) the president.  A private corporate army, unconstrained by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Law of Armed Conflict, and presumably outside the control of the military establishment, should chill the blood of every single American man and woman.  The only other paramilitary forces that operate this way: ISIS and Al Qaeda.

It's possible, even likely, that you'll read this and go "Mike, you're just overreacting.  Cut back on the caffeine."  It's possible.  I hope you're right.  But what if you're not?  Is it worth the cost to wait and see?  Or is it time to put specific, focused, and unending pressure on Congress to see this for what it is and do everything in their power to curtail it?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Slowing our Roll on Healthcare Reform

Last week, three Republican Senators joined the 48 Senate Democrats and struck down a horrific bill that would have kicked 22 million Americans off of healthcare.  After six months of assault, this was a huge relief to members of the resistance who, literally worked day and night to lobby members of Congress to put a halt to it.  It was a good day.

It's only natural in the aftermath to start talking about a path forward.  Where do we go from here?  For those who would say "single payer now," I say: slow your roll.  Here's why:

If you've ever had a child come to you with gum stuck in her hair, that's a pretty good analogy for the American healthcare system.  It's sticky, it's messy, and it's sort of worked into all sorts of things.  Also similar, everyone's got their home remedies, all of which work to varying degrees, but nothing is a perfect solution.  And just yanking at it only makes things worse.

One oft-cited statistic about healthcare is that it represents 1/6th of the American economy.  That should be enough to give anyone pause.  While you may not feel any particular sympathy for the 'big bad insurance companies,' that number represents hundreds of billions of dollars, millions of jobs, and - oh yes - a bunch of publicly traded companies that find themselves comfortably nestled in our retirement accounts.  You simply can't turn an entire enormous industry on its head overnight without some serious consequences rippling across broad sectors of our nation.

So let's just put single payer back in the box for a while.  So, what's left?

It's important to think just a moment about what health insurance as a product does.  Because it's not actually for the patient.  Health insurance actually protects hospitals, ensuring they will get paid for services, ensuring they have the cash flow needed to continue operating.  Health insurers don't really provide the patient anything today.  They are an administrative layer, complete with the added costs of overhead and executive compensation, all conveniently added to the expense that the hospital already charges for care.  What's more, they charge you based on what they "guess" your eventual medical costs will be, whether or not they ever materialize.  This may sound like an indictment, but it's really the beginning of root causes.  If we break it down, we see problems that need to be solved.

  • How do we ensure hospitals are protected from going out of business?
  • How do we ensure health insurance companies profit from improved health, a benefit to the patient and reduced load on the system?
  • How do we ensure people are really paying their 'fair share'?
And, most importantly:

  • How do we ensure everyone gets the care they need without fear of going bankrupt?
There are a LOT of potential answers to each of these questions.  Do we declare hospitals "critical infrastructure" and provide them direct government subsidies (the way we do farms) to offset their shortfalls?  Maybe.  Do we transform the health insurance industry into a health management industry, where people pay for the access to non-medical and screening services that help improve the customer's health profile and limit doctor visits?  Possibly.  Do we transform "insurance" into "membership," where your actual accrued balance is what is used to pay directly for medical services when needed?  Who knows?  The point is, now you've got new, tangible problems to solve.  

And yes, would single payer address those things?  Of course.  But, again, we'd tank an entire industry overnight, throw a bunch of people out of work, sink your retirement account, and probably a mini-recession to go with it.  So let's move forward, but tread lightly.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Day We Found the Smoking Gun

Today, the President's son released a thread of emails between himself and a Russian associate which solicit a meeting between an emissary and three top members of the campaign.  The email explicitly proposes an arrangement to provide information sourced by the Russian Government in order to assist the campaign.  The email thread, a first-hand source, was sent between June 3rd and 8th.

A lot of people will look at this in isolation and work to explain it away.  And some who are clever enough might even succeed.  None of that actually matters one bit.  What happened on the day, what was gathered in that meeting or as a result of it, none of it matters.

Because this is now the predicate through which we view everything that followed.  Remember this phrase: "knowing that the Russian government was working to support the election of Donald Trump."

  • On June 14th, the DNC announced they had been hacked by the Russians
  • On July 7th Carter Page takes a campaign-authorized trip to Moscow, knowing that the Russian government was working to support the election of Donald Trump.
  • On July 18th, Jeff Sessions meets with Sergei Kislyak at the RNC knowing that the Russian government was working to support the election of Donald Trump, and the Trump campaign subsequently softened language on America's support of Ukraine against Russian aggression
  • On July 23rd, the campaign watched WikiLeaks dump 22,000 hacked emails from the DNC, knowing that the Russian Government was working to support the election of Donald Trump.
  • On July 24th, Paul Manafort said on television that the suggestion of connections between the campaign and Russia was "absurd," knowing that the Russian government was working to support the election of Donald Trump.
  • Also on July 24th, Donald Trump Jr issued a similar denial on another program, saying "it's disgusting; it's phony... I can't think of bigger lies," knowing that the Russian government was working to support the election of Donald Trump.
  • On July 27th, Donald Trump himself issued a similar denial on television.  
  • On September 7, Republican Operative Peter Smith wrote a document recruiting others to help obtain Clinton emails he believed were hacked by Russians, implying in conversations and emails that he was working with the Trump campaign.
  • On September 8, Jeff Sessions meets again with Sergei Kislyak in his Senate offices, knowing that the Russian government was working to support the election of Donald Trump.
  • On September 26 and October 19, Donald Trump stated during two presidential debates that he doubted Russia hacked the DNC, knowing that the Russian government was working to support the election of Donald Trump.
  • Early December, Flynn and Kushner meet with Kislyak in Trump Tower, knowing the Russian government had worked to support the election victory of Donald Trump, and asked to set up a back-channel of communications, possibly directly from the Russian embassy in Washington DC.
  • December, Kushner met with Sergei Gorkov, chairman of Russia's (sanctioned by the US) Vneshecombank (VEB), knowing the Russian government had worked to support the election victory of Donald Trump.
  • Around January 11, Trump emissary and brother of Betsy DeVos met with Putin emissary secretly in the Seychelles, knowing the Russian government had worked to support the election victory of Donald Trump.
  • On January 26, acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House counsel that Mike Flynn could be subject to blackmail by Russians, due to his undisclosed conversations.  The White House failed to take action for 18 days afterward, knowing the Russian government had worked to support the election victory of Donald Trump.
  • In February, Trump aides sought to unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia, knowing the Russian government had worked to support the election victory of Donald Trump. 
  • On May 9th, Trump fires James Comey, stating later it was "this Russia thing" and a "phony story," knowing the Russian government had worked to support the election victory of Donald Trump.
  • On May 10th, Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, where he bragged that he fired "nut job" James Comey, and said he "faced great pressure because of Russia" while extemporaneously providing extremely sensitive HUMINT regarding ISIS in Syria, knowing the Russian government had worked to support the election victory of Donald Trump.
As you can see, this new lens absolutely and irrevocably changes the significance of these already shady events.  In isolation, the email is not a smoking gun, but it is a bloody fingerprint that ties the rest of the crime scene neatly together.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Untargeted: Why We're Wrong About Everyone

As part of an ongoing series exploring privilege and my journey to shedding it, I offer this first installment, a baseline if you will for taking a step toward understanding. Ironically, I see this first step as acknowledging that it's impossible.  And, oddly, how that's a very good thing. 

Of course, all this is merely a wandering exploration of my own understanding.  Renowned sociologists will probably pick me apart.  But that's okay.  

Humans are the strangest of creatures.  We are studies in contradiction.  We draw much of our identity from the groups we inhabit: cultural, professional, societal, and familial, among others.  And, as members of a group, if part of its collective identity is attacked, we cleave to it more strongly to protect our own.  Even "anti-groups" like the Punk Rock movement drew and aligned their identity to the collective.  Having an "us" is the ultimate survival mechanism.  

However, flip that scenario and assume that I, as a member of a group, am DEFINED by the group, and I will, almost reflexively, reject that assumption.  "You don't know me!" I'll say.  And it's true.  Although I'm a (proud) veteran, assuming that I hold certain attitudes or beliefs based on that one fact will provoke a reaction.  Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed.  

Rashida Jones
My statistics teacher taught me something that always stuck with me.  He said "all models are wrong; some are useful."  As a tool for achieving insight, models are incredibly valuable when looking at large groups.  But modelers know that their product is "precisely wrong."  We know that our population lies within +/- 3% of whatever we are stating.  But nobody is an "exact fit."  Now, as I constantly work to unravel my preconceived filters and biases, I realize that this rule is true in a hundred different ways at the same time.  None of us are exactly anything, but simultaneously ALMOST dozens of things.  Which of them is in the proverbial driver's seat at any given time is subject to change, and often a product of our environment.  

So, no matter how much we study, no matter how much we learn, we'll never be right about anyone.  Some see this as a reason to throw their hands up.  But I think it's the basis for a really profound understanding.  We are many things. We are OF many things.  We draw on those histories and traditions as a source of strength (and, sometimes shame).  But, even though I am all of those, in the end, I am uniquely ME, an individual that draws from the collective, but is not defined by it.  And, my friend, so are you.  

So the next time you catch yourself asking "how could a (woman/person of color/LGBTQ person) support her or him or THAT?" check your filters.  And so will I.  It's a start.