Send in the clowns

donald-trumpSome 48 hours before Donald Trump “officially” announced his candidacy for president on Tuesday, I posted a quip on Facebook that I would be seeking the mayor’s seat in Biddeford.

The idea was jokingly bantered about while Mayor Alan Casavant was attending a party at my home. (Full disclosure: Casavant is serious about seeking a third term, and I support him.)

But my announcement was never intended to be serious.

For starters, I have absolutely no business running for any elected office. I can barely manage my own life, as detailed here.

While my Facebook quip generated some buzz, lots of positive comments and even comments from people willing to help my “campaign,” it was, again, a sarcastic joke.

Now that I think about it, my announcement was actually much less a joke than Trump’s escalator event on Tuesday; and many of us are left to wonder if he is truly serious or just seeking some more attention to further inflate his own ego.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/randy.seaver.3/posts/10204495391008046

Consider for a moment what Trump laid out as his agenda before a group of New York City tourists, some mentally deranged followers and a gaggle of reporters.

He hit all the hot-button topics: immigration, saying we will be build a massive wall between the United States and Mexico. How will we pay for it? Trump said he wold force Mexico to foot the tab through higher tariffs on their imports.

Umm, this is a direct violation of the North American Free Trade Act.

Trumped bragged about his wealth, pointing to what he estimates at a net worth of nearly $9 billion.

He pontificated about his fantastic business career. But riddle me this, how does a man who has filed four bankruptcies amass a fortune of $9 billion, much less describe himself as a savvy businessman? Has he directed any of his fortune to settling old debts with his creditors?

Trump says he will make America strong again, a nice talking point, but one best left for dictators.

For my friends on the right who criticize President Obama for a slew of Executive Actions; the Donald listed out more than a dozen executive actions he would take if elected.

Perhaps he’s been in his mahogany-paneled boardroom so long that he has forgotten the president must work with 535 pesky members of Congress.

Congress controls the purse strings, not The Donald.

More importantly, can Trump’s ego handle the bruising? How will he react when he comes in second, third or tenth in the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary?

Sure, Donald has a certain appeal, and he’s good at tapping into America’s growing resentment against the rest of the world. He excels at fear mongering, but he is anything but a serious presidential candidate.

And who do we blame for this phenomena? This perverse distraction?

Look in the mirror. The vast and overwhelming majority of registered voters don’t cast ballots; we leave that to the partisan fringes, where emotion so often “trumps” logic.

We are a nation more concerned about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner; television shows like Honey Boo-Boo, the tribulations of the Duggar family, American Idol and Big Brother.

We are a nation addicted to bread and circuses. Is it any wonder that we have sent in the clowns to run the country?

Donald Trump has no business running for president. I have no business running for mayor of Biddeford. The difference between us is that one of us knows a joke when we see it.

Lido Shuffle

The experiment is over, and it was a bittersweet experience letting it go.

As it is with so many things in life, it occurs to me that my endeavor to create a diverse group to debate differing political ideas with civility was both a phenomenal success and an utter failure. We called this group “Thinking Politics” and its membership quickly swelled beyond my expectations.

WP_20140906_18_48_58_ProLast night, I had the pleasure of participating in the phenomenal success part; but it was the utter failure part that led me to let go of the reins, end the “experiment” and let the group go wherever it wants; allow the other members of this “secret” social media group to experience true self-determination.

I started the group, and until last night served as its primary moderator. Admittedly, I tried to control the group: to maintain a balance between liberal and conservative thought.

My bigger mistake, however, was trying to appease all members of the group, and that caused a lot of anger and dissension.

A few months ago there was a schism of sorts. Roughly 20 percent of the members left the group after I announced that we would leave religion out of our political conversations.

I was angry that these departing members hijacked my group’s name and started a similar group entitled Thinking Politics/Free Speech, as if free speech has no limits.

But the bulk of the original group’s members remained, yet still the dynamic I envisioned never really materialized in a substantive way.

I wanted to see if there would be more intellectual curiosity; if members would be willing to re-examine and challenge their own political pre-conceptions and beliefs.

One of the problems is that the group quickly became dominated by one side of the political aisle. Those in the minority felt frustrated and stopped participating.

In a recent Facebook post, Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, spoke of the value of having his ideas challenged by a good friend during a monthly lunch meeting.

Perhaps that is why last night was such a stunning success.

About 30 members of Thinking Politics convened for an impromptu dinner in Portland. All members, regardless of political affiliation, were invited. It was an awesome experience, full of laughter, shared experiences, good food and plenty of libation.

That experience reminded me of the Political Beer Summits I once organized with friends who often disagreed about political issues. Those summits inspired the creation of Thinking Politics.

When you’re sitting at a table, directly across from your adversary, it becomes instantly clear that you have much more in common than not. We all have funny stories, fond memories, shared experiences, including loss, fear, hope and dreams.

It’s almost impossible to establish that kind of intimacy on the internet. When you are separated by a keyboard and a monitor, it’s much easier to belittle your opponent, to say things you would never say if you were sharing a meal with them.

So, part of me thinks I failed; but as I looked around at the group last night, I also felt a certain sense of pride. The conversations were real, the friendships were plainly evident.

It was a good time for me to say goodbye, to let go of my moderator status and turn over the keys to six others.

Where Thinking Politics goes from here is unknown. What is known, however, is that I will no longer be at the helm of that ship.

My experiment is over, and I regret nothing.

A good friend from Rhode Island accompanied us to the dinner. Her observation meant a lot to me. “Look at all these people, they came from Texas, Illinois and all over, and they really want to be here and meet the other members in person. You started that, Randy, and that’s impressive.”

So, in the end, maybe my time at the helm of Thinking Politics was a stunning success; and thus, it was the perfect time to walk away and let others steer that ship.

 

Every picture tells a story

ChinaHere’s a picture.  I found it on Facebook.

Take a good look. What do you see?

At first, I wanted to be outraged. I wanted to be full of righteous indignation, full of sound and fury.

But then I paused and took a closer look. The picture before me slowly changed.

What I first perceived to be a callous political stunt was actually something much more benign, yet so incredibly beautiful.

A woman and her two teen daughters, enjoying what appears to be a spontaneous moment during a visit to the Great Wall of China.

A mother and her children, sharing a moment they will likely never forget.

The image of these three beautiful woman with one of the world’s greatest man-made wonders serving as an understated backdrop is . . . well, more than I can describe.

So, in less than two minutes, I was moved from outrage to a glowing sense of pride. That’s the First Family of the United States, our best ambassadors to represent the true character, warmth and spirit of my countrymen.

Damn, I thought, I am going to share this photo. It’s pretty awesome.

What went wrong?

As I went to hit the “share” button, I noticed some of the comments that had been posted on the White House Facebook page. I could not believe what I was reading.

So like driving past an accident, I slowed down and scrolled because — for some unknown reason — I just needed a little more hate in my day, a tad more vitriol. I was apparently thirsty for the ugly carnage of rage and fear.

Within 3o seconds, I thought I was going to vomit, literally.

I could not  – – still cannot — believe what I was reading. One man referred to Michelle Obama and her two daughters as “apes.”

Another man urged the First Family to commit suicide by jumping off the wall.

It went downhill from there, but I cannot — 24 hours later — bring myself to retype the words, the pure, unadulterated hate that is as alive and well today as it ever was in our nation’s history.

I get that it’s hard for many Americans who are still struggling under the weight of a sluggish economy to see the First Family’s vacation photos.  In an earlier post from 2012, I pointed out that President Bush rarely hesitated to use his vacation time.

It’s tough optics, but it is not exclusive to the Obama family.

And when friends talk about racism and the Obama Administration, I generally push back. I tell them they are exagerrating…”playing the race card.”

I used to think his supporters would see rampant racism around every corner, simply as a way to mask the president’s failures or his shortcomings.

So, maybe I needed to see what I saw last night.

I did not vote for President Obama, but I want to buy him a beer or two because I now know he is a far better man than me. Why?

Well, if I were the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military, and if someone described my wife and children as “apes,” . . . well, let your imagination run wild, but the world would probably have one less ignoramus surfing the internet.

Bottom line? It’s really ugly out there, but if you are patient . . . and open to it . . .there is a lot of beauty to behold.

Color me bad

Elephant_LogoYou find the weirdest stuff on Facebook.

This morning, I stumbled across a new Facebook page that is dedicated to the idea of reclaiming the color blue for Republicans.

At first blush, I thought this was one of the silliest things. But then, I started thinking about it.

Why would the GOP want the color blue versus red? Isn’t red the traditional color for Republicans? Not unless you consider “traditional” as the last 15 years.

According to the Republicans Red No More Facebook page, “center-right parties around the world are Blue, and Social Democrat parties are Red, except in the U.S. where 13 years ago the media assigned Red to the Republicans. “

The page creators argue that for more than a century, Republicans were routinely associated with Blue and Democrats with Red.

That color association was changed, they say, by NBC journalist Tim Russert in 2000 when he assigned Red to Republicans on his electoral map.

Since then, they say, the media has adopted this formula, even though it runs counter to American history and worldwide practice.

Are they right? Well, take a look at the map that NBC used to portray the 1980 presidential election results between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

1980 mapBut do colors really matter?

Apparently so. At least to color psychologists:

Color is a form of non verbal communication.  It is not a static  energy and its meaning can change from one day to the next with any  individual.

For example, a person may choose to wear the red one day and  this may indicate they are ready to take action, or they may be  passionate about what they are going to be doing that day, or again it  may mean that they are feeling angry that day, on either a conscious or  subconscious level.

Experts say the color red can cause people to feel rushed, agitated or angry. The color blue, on the other hand is generally associated with serenity. It is also associated with trust, honesty and loyalty.

So, given this information it becomes easy to see why Republicans want to “take back” the color blue.

And what about the rest of the world? Are Social Democratic political parties generally red and center-right parties blue?

That would be true in a wide range of countries, including Finland, Israel and the Czech Republic. In fact, the more you look, the more you will see that conservative or centrist parties are associated with the color blue around the globe.

But I don’t expect the U.S. Democratic Party to go down without a fight in the upcoming color war. After all, the last thing Democrats want is to be associated with the color red (Think Soviet Union, the Red Invasion and all sorts of other negative stereotypes.

Who changed the color? Was it a mainstream media with a liberal bias? Was it an oversight or an intentional switch by the GOP? There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but one thing is for sure: you can always find some strange stuff on Facebook, which relies on the color blue.

 

Sand in the Vaseline

the_internet_simplified1This blog is on equal footing with the New York Times.

No, I am not having a Richard Sherman moment. I am simply stating a fact. A fact that should give all of us pause as we contemplate the marvels of technology

What I write on these pages is instantly available to billions of people, anyone connected to the world-wide web. By virtue of nothing more than my registered domain, my silly and perfunctory blog is just as accessible as any other online media source.

The internet, virtually free of government regulation (at least in the United States), is the great equalizer, and it has fundamentally shifted the way we live our lives. Today, we can do things that would have seemed impossible or the stuff of science fiction just 20 years ago.

Medical records can be transmitted at lightning speed, sometimes helping doctors save a life; you can now renew your driver’s license while wearing only boxer shorts at 3 a.m. from the comfort of your own home; 12-year-old boys no longer have to suffer the humiliation of sneaking a peek at a Playboy magazine perched on the top shelf at the local drug store. There are millions of funny cat videos to watch; and you can argue politics with absolute strangers (today they are called Facebook “friends” or “followers”) 24 hours a day.

I think we can all agree that the internet is pretty cool. Thank you, Al Gore!

I write this because of a recent court decision that is considered by some as a victory for free markets and by others as a threat to humanity.

The issue is known as “network neutrality,” a terrifying concept with a very appealing name. Thank you, public relations professionals! (You’re welcome)

Those who favor net neutrality say they want to “save the internet.” Those who oppose net neutrality say they want to “save the internet.”

Enter the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals, which sided with Verizon and other telecom giants over the schizophrenic rulemaking proposed by the FCC.

According to Reuters, the Court rejected federal rules that required Internet providers to treat all web traffic equally, a decision that could allow mobile carriers and other broadband providers to charge content providers for faster access to websites and services.

The Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet rules, also known as net neutrality, required Internet service providers to give consumers equal access to all lawful content without restrictions or tiered charges.

Which side of the net neutrality debate is right?

The sad fact is that both sides are a little bit right, and we can all agree that the internet should continue being cool and delivering porn or funny cat videos at blazing fast speeds, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not really the issue at hand. Let’s pause for a moment and watch a video:

Clash of the Titans

At the center of the net neutrality debate is a sad truth. This is not some humanistic battle on the wild frontier of technology. This is a race to the bank by two sets of very large corporations.

On one side, you have internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. On the other side are huge internet users like Netflix, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and YouTube.

The late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was roundly chastised for describing the internet as a “series of tubes,” but he was not that far off the mark.

The bottom line? It costs money to make the internet work. It requires infrastructure that is in constant need of upgrades and repairs to meet the challenges of an exploding market and skyrocketing volume demands. The world has a big appetite for cat videos and pornography.

Netflix, Amazon and others want to use the internet just like you and me. Equal access for all, they scream.

But does that make sense? Net neutrality opponents argue that the internet is a public domain and should thus have equal access for all users. Let’s think about that.

AA001879Can we apply that logic to other public domains? How about the post office? Should it cost as much to mail a post card as it does an air conditioner? Is that discrimination?

Or how about the Turnpike, a quasi-public piece of infrastructure subsidized by tax dollars? Tractor trailer trucks have to pay a bigger toll than someone driving a Prius. And that is fair because the truck creates more wear and tear on the road.

Proponents of net neutrality say that consumers may have to pay more for faster services or special tiered packages. Oh my!

Their rallying cry, as demonstrated by a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Susan Crawford is that the internet could end up being like (gasp) pay TV.

I don’t know about Susan Crawford, but television when I was growing up sucked. We had three channels, and I was my father’s remote control. Television today is much better. I have a huge TV and about a zillion channels that all show the same seven movies over and over. I pay through the teeth for that kick-ass, high-definition, Dolby surround-sound, 60-inch, power sucking thing of beauty, and I can pause live television. Imagine telling that to someone watching Archie Bunker in 1972.

Net neutrality is a solution desperately in search of a problem. Your internet today is better than it was five years ago. I guarantee it will be even better five years from now, . . . unless, the “Save the Internet” crowd opts for a second bite at the apple.

Bridge over troubled water

Chris Christie (AP Photo)

Chris Christie (AP Photo)

By comparison, guys like Gary Hart and Bill Clinton had it easy.

Sex scandal? No big deal. Traffic jam in New Jersey? Now that’s how you infuriate people.

It remains to be seen exactly how the controversy surrounding “bridge-gate” will impact Christie’s dreams of a 2016 presidential bid, but watching the news this morning it appeared that the world was about to slip off its axis. The talking heads were beside themselves, questioning whether Christie’s political clout could endure the scandal.

Within moments of the fateful e-mail surfacing, DNC activists were all over the blogosphere, questioning the New Jersey governor’s credibility and his ability to lead.

“Is this the guy we want in the White House?,” wrote one woman on Facebook, mocking Christie for “not knowing” about every e-mail his staff had sent or received.

Strangely, it was only a few months ago when Democrats were eager to point to Christie as a welcome voice of sanity in the GOP. They praised his bipartisan nature because he was willing (gasp) to meet with President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, only days before the 2012 election.

Republicans, on the other hand, were infuriated, stopping just short of accusing Christie of orchestrating the hurricane disaster as a way to help Obama beat Romney. Sorry, but my cocker spaniel could have helped Obama beat Romney.

Back then, my friends on the left side of the political aisle celebrated Christie. They praised him as a rare Republican. They called him a moderate. They said he was a “common sense leader.”

They used to say the same things about John McCain: a maverick . . . a man of principle. Democrats felt good about being able to heap praise on someone from the other side of the aisle, right up until he won the GOP nomination.

The same dynamic began happening to Christie last year, despite his willingness to parody himself on the Jimmy Fallon Show. Because Hillary is the heir apparent for the Oval Office, and because Christie was holding his own in polling against her, he began to fall out of favor, especially with my friends on the left.

Christie, however, adamantly and repeatedly denies having any interest in the 2016 presidential race. Strangely, he sent a lot of Christmas cards to elected officials in Iowa a few weeks ago. Who knows? Maybe he just likes Iowa.

I don’t know how this crisis will impact Christie’s political future, but I do know this: I was lukewarm about him as a presidential candidate until this afternoon.

Christie did something today that is rare in today’s political world. He took responsibility. He said, “I own this.” He apologized. He held his subordinates responsible. He expressed regret. He answered every question the media threw at him . . . and then some. He talked, and talked and talked . . . and talked.

He did not run away from the problem. He faced it head on. He accepted the responsibility that comes with leadership. “The buck stops with me,” he said.

How refreshing. He didn’t blame his political opponents. He didn’t blame the media. He didn’t blame Congress. He owned the problem and pledged to fix it.

That’s leadership, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the left to give him any praise or even the benefit of the doubt.

Because today was the best day that Hillary Clinton has had in a long, long time.

Take the money and run

Stack Of CashLike a lot of other people, President Barack Obama has a New Year’s resolution.

This week Obama pledge to return his focus to the subject of “income inequality.”

According to a story in the Washington Post, the president was a bit short on specifics about how he might achieve his long-sought economic goals. Instead, the speech — coming at the end of a difficult and politically damaging year — was designed to help define a populist argument that he and other Democrats can carry into upcoming legislative battles and into next year’s midterm elections.”

While most everyone can agree that a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots presents serious problems for the country, the real battles will come as various factions argue about how to narrow the gap between the poor and rich. You can expect these battles to line up in perfect symmetry between the two major political parties.

This is the year that I will turn 50. This year is also the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a “war on poverty.”

This is where it gets tricky for Democrats. Five years into Obama’s presidency, and 50 years after our nation declared a so-called war on poverty, there is ample evidence that the war is failing and President Obama’s economic recovery measures are falling short. The poor are still getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.  This is why today’s political battles are about extending unemployment benefits, expanding Medicaid, etc.

An Inconvenient Truth

Republicans will have their own challenges in this debate.

They will be labeled, generalized and demonized as rich, fat cats. No one will talk about John Kerry, the Kennedys or the Roosevelt Family. We will ignore Nancy Pelosi’s wealth. This, as always, will be about politics . . . not about solutions. It will be about Republicans trying to beat Democrats by pointing to failures; and about Democrats blaming Republicans.

It’s just too easy for most Americans to get behind the Robin Hood concept of taking from the rich and giving to the poor without realizing that you are simply relocating wealth.

Since both parties have challenges in this mid-term election year, you can expect a lot of talk about the “top 1 percent.” But here is an inconvenient truth that I stumbled across on Twitter:

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO),  the top 1% of wage earners make 14.9 percent of all pre-tax income in the United States, yet pay 24.2 percent of all federal taxes.This is a conversation we must have. We should focus on making poor people richer, not on making rich people poorer.

The best way to achieve that goal is to 1.) Focus on educating the nation’s workforce. 2.) Stabilize family units 3.) Drive down health care costs and stop focusing on expanding insurance (make health care more affordable, efficient)

Since U.S. poverty rates continue to climb, maybe it’s time to admit we’ve lost the war on poverty. Maybe we need a new strategy and a little less politicking. But don’t bank on it.

If you would like to read or download the CBO report, you can find it here