Thursday, January 18, 2018

Conscience and Religious Freedom...isn't

On Jan. 18, 2018, the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that its Office for Civil Rights would have a new "Conscience and Religious Freedom Division." The idea of a need to protect "religious freedom" has been around for a while. Outwardly, it is based on the concern that a religious person might be forced to do something that violates their conscience or religious belief. Political scientist Andrew Lewis said recently:

"Federal religious freedom laws gained some steam in the mid-1990s, and a decent number of conservatives were involved in them, but there was very little public awareness that they were going on.

It’s not until you see the legalization of same-sex marriage that you see this real drive to protect religious freedom. The day that the Obergefell case was decided...They knew that they were losing this cultural battle and this was a way to preserve what they thought was their orthodox faith in action."

During the 1990s and 2000s while same-sex marriage was debated nationally, many people claimed to oppose legalizing it on the premise that clergy should not be forced to perform same-sex weddings. This threat was never real, since clergy have always been free to refuse to marry people (divorcees and interfaith couples) and to impose religious requirements on the couple before and during the wedding. Since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, no clergy have been forced to perform one. The obviousness of the non-threat did not stop it from seizing people's imaginations. Having lost the same-sex marriage battle, Christian conservatives now aim for "religious freedom" laws to ensure that religious people are not forced to do...well, anything that they claim offends their beliefs.

For now, the new HHS division does not directly create or change laws (though it might encourage them). It is supposed to enforce whatever federal laws exist. Its activities will depend in part on what federal laws are created or struck down and what complaints are filed. Its new website does not contain a comprehensive list of all possibly relevant laws, so it is hard to predict what will happen.

The agency is already being selective about how it promotes what it does. Its website talks a bit about abortion and euthanasia and the nondiscrimination provisions in the Affordable Care Act that relate to them, but it doesn't mention the ACA’s Section 1557 which forbids discrimination based on markers including “pregnancy, gender identity, and sex stereotyping" and whose enforcement has been in question since Trump’s election. Its website doesn't mention transgender people at all, but this is one of the points at issue in the public consciousness. If that part of the ACA is repealed, the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will have responsibility for enforcing the right of healthcare workers to discriminate against people based on pregnancy and gender.

Drilling down through the website’s complaint process reveals a list of a wide range of relevant employment situations including agencies for adoption, foster care, and social services; mental health centers; drug rehabs; homeless shelters; nursing homes; researchers; insurance companies; and pharmacies. This suggests that religious people anticipate wanting to reserve the right to deny service based on a client’s identity or behavior, not just on specific procedures.

Someone might want the birth control pill or the "Plan B" pill to interrupt a possible pregnancy. Someone might want pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV. It would be good if one's pharmacist would dispense it. The pharmacist's prerogative to make judgments about others does not seem to outweigh the client's prerogative to make choices about their own life. That doesn't seem to be a good definition of political freedom.

If a cosmetic implant ruptures it would be nice to think that one could just get it taken out without starting a debate about whether the patient is really a woman, whether it's really an emergency and exactly how many hours are estimated to remain to allow a different healthcare staff to be recruited,, whether repairing it counts as a sex-reassignment surgery as opposed to only removing it and sending her elsewhere to get it fixed. What kind of moral calculus is that, and what is the benefit? It is much simpler to accept that this is a person who needs the same kind of treatment as anyone else with that problem. But the insistence on so-called "religious freedom" is the endorsement of just that kind of presumptuous, time-wasting, anxiety-provoking, us/them polarizing moral calculus, and there is now a federal agency to attempt to culturally legitimize it.

The scope of the types of discriminations allowable under "religious freedom" is likely to increase. State laws branded under the same “religious freedom” concept are not all healthcare-specific. Some apply more broadly to general business dealings. So, even though this new federal agency may not have the mission of enforcing state law, we should pay attention to how the idea of "religious freedom" is variously interpreted and what versions politically succeed.


Monday, January 15, 2018

What is 'the paradox of voting'?

Going to the cinema alone

The three-screen cinema is showing Robot Laser Wars, Legal Drama, and Giggles the Bear. You’re hoping for Robot Laser Wars; it’s something you can only see without your spouse, who wouldn’t appreciate it. When you arrive, there is a confusing sign saying “Next showing sold out.” You’re unsure which of the three films is sold out. Before you approach the ticket window, you privately rank your preferences so you’ll have a second choice ready to go in case it’s your first choice that’s sold out. It’s not hard. You’ll settle for Legal Drama. You feel much too old for Giggles the Bear.

If your spouse were in the same situation alone at the cinema, you’re sure that Legal Drama would be his first choice, and furthermore that he’d rather see Giggles the Bear before setting foot in Robot Laser Wars.

And your child? She’s still young enough to prefer Giggles the Bear. She might be entertained by Robot Laser Wars as a second choice, but she’d have no comprehension of or attention for Legal Drama.

The purpose of a “first, second, third” preference ranking is obvious. Regardless of which film is sold out, you know which of the two available films you want. If your first choice is sold out, you want your second choice. If your second or third choice is sold out, it’s no problem—you still want your first choice.

It barely rates mentioning but, for the record, and because it will be relevant later: Since you place your first choice over your second choice, and your second choice over your third choice, it stands to reason that you place your first choice over your third choice. For you, personally, Robots still beats Giggles regardless of your middle preference for Legal.

Going to the cinema with your family

Now look at what happens when the family goes to the theater together. You retain your individual preferences:

You:Robots > Legal > Giggles
Spouse:Legal > Giggles > Robots
Kid:Giggles > Robots > Legal

You first need to find out which film is sold out so you can rule it out. Given the two remaining films, you’ll take a majority-wins vote. If everyone votes their own interest, the vote will come down 2 against 1.

If the contest is between Robots and Legal, Robots win.(You and your kid will vote that way.)
If the contest is between Legal and Giggles, Legal wins.(You and your spouse will vote that way.)

So, if the contest is between Robots and Giggles, won’t Robots win? After all, if the group prefers Robots over Legal, and Legal over Giggles, doesn’t it stand to reason that the group prefers Robots over Giggles? That’s how it works for you as an individual when you rank your first, second, and third choices. It’s just what it means to rank your individual preference. To you, Robots is the best, so it remains the best. It is better than second-best and definitely better than third-best. It seems as if that's what the group believes, too. And yet...that’s not always how it works for a group. In this scenario:
If the contest is between Robots and Giggles, Giggles wins.(Your spouse and your kid will vote that way.)

Effect on elections

Individual preferences seem to operate by slightly different rules when they are aggregated into a “group preference.” This is called the paradox of voting. As Pierre Lemieux puts it, in the situation above: "The electorate is irrational even if each voter is rational....'We as a society' is more a casino roulette than a rational actor."

When a society doesn't have a clear preference about which direction is best, narrowing the available choices down to two and then holding a majority-wins election is one way to reach a short-term solution, but it won't resolve the long-term question about which direction really is best. The society will keep cycling the question and rehashing the debate. They really don't agree and the only way to pretend there's a majority census is to artificially narrow the options or change the framing. If there is a way to bring people to consensus, it may require a novel approach (such as teaching people to empathize with each other's wants and needs); holding yet another election probably won't do it.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Fire and Fury #4 - Trump's relationship with the media

In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff describes the president's complicated relationship with the media.

Years before the campaign, when Trump was famous as a New York real estate mogul, he had sought the limelight. Roger Ailes said that, to Trump, “the media represented power, much more so than politics". Wolff relates:

"The media long ago turned on Donald Trump as a wannabe and lightweight, and wrote him off for that ultimate sin — anyway, the ultimate sin in media terms — of trying to curry favor with the media too much. His fame, such as it was, was actually reverse fame — he was famous for being infamous. It was joke fame."

Furthermore, he was known for his bankruptcies.

"Whereas he [Trump] had before been the symbol of success and mocked for it, now [in the 1990s] he became, in a shift of zeitgeist (and of having to refinance a great deal of debt), a symbol of failure and mocked for it. This was a complicated reversal, not just having to do with Trump, but of how the media was now seeing itself. Donald Trump became a symbol of the media’s own self-loathing: the interest in and promotion of Donald Trump was a morality tale about the media. Its ultimate end was [New York Observer editor Peter] Kaplan’s pronouncement that Trump should not be covered anymore because every story about Donald Trump had become a cliché."

The presidential campaign was different. His former celebrity was not a fulfillment in itself. Journalists now expected him to make factual statements. He was bedeviled by "the media, which, with its conclusion of a misbegotten and bastard presidency, believed it could diminish him and wound him (and wind him up) and rob him of all credibility by relentlessly pointing out how literally wrong he was. The media, adopting a 'shocked, shocked' morality, could not fathom how being factually wrong was not an absolute ending in itself."

He was in a bind:

"Trump craved media approval. But, as Bannon emphasized, he was never going to get the facts right, nor was he ever going to acknowledge that he got them wrong, so therefore he was not going to get that approval. This meant, next best thing, that he had to be aggressively defended against the media’s disapproval. The problem here was that the more vociferous the defense — mostly of assertions that could easily be proved wrong — the more the media redoubled its attacks and censure. What’s more, Trump was receiving the censure of his friends, too."

"The fabulous, incomprehensible irony that the Trump family had, despite the media’s distaste, despite everything the media knows and understands and has said about them, risen to a level not only of ultimate consequence but even of immortality is beyond worst-case nightmare and into cosmic-joke territory." Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner had been subject to the same media pressures as New York celebrities, "never quite understanding why they should be the butt of a media joke, and now," together in the White House, "the target of its stunned outrage."

Meanwhile, when his allies were the subject of media criticism, "he blamed them and their inability to get good press."

Trump wanted to be universally praised in the media. He did not understand that, in politics, some outlets would always be positive and some would always be negative.

"The conundrum was that conservative media saw Trump as its creature, while Trump saw himself as a star, a vaunted and valued product of all media, one climbing ever higher. It was a cult of personality, and he was the personality. He was the most famous man in the world. Everybody loved him — or ought to. On Trump’s part this was, arguably, something of a large misunderstanding about the nature of conservative media. He clearly did not understand that what conservative media elevated, liberal media would necessarily take down. Trump, goaded by Bannon, would continue to do the things that would delight conservative media and incur the wrath of liberal media. That was the program. The more your supporters loved you, the more your antagonists hated you. That’s how it was supposed to work. And that’s how it was working. But Trump himself was desperately wounded by his treatment in the mainstream media."

The polarization left Americans with a difficult decision of whom to trust. There were now "two unreliable narrators dominating American public life," as Wolff put it, if you accepted the argument of Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard: the President-elect, who "spoke with little information and frequently no factual basis," and the media, which treats everything he does as, "by default, unconstitutional or an abuse of power."

The president's need for positive attention from all directions revealed that he

"quite profoundly seemed unable to distinguish between his political advantage and his personal needs — he thought emotionally, not strategically. The great value of being president, in his view, was that you’re the most famous man in the world, and fame is always venerated and adored by the media. Isn’t it? But, confusingly, Trump was president in large part because of his particular talent, conscious or reflexive, to alienate the media, which then turned him into a figure reviled by the media. This was not a dialectical space that was comfortable for an insecure man."

Fire and Fury #3 - The president's odd behavior

Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury documents some unusual behavior from the president.

Questions about relevant knowledge and mental fitness

Wolff marvels that he was elected president while "wholly lacking what in some obvious sense must be the main requirement of the job, what neuroscientists would call executive function....He had no ability to plan and organize and pay attention and switch focus; he had never been able to tailor his behavior to what the goals at hand reasonably required. On the most basic level, he simply could not link cause and effect." Moreover, "while he was often most influenced by the last person he spoke to, he did not actually listen to anyone. So it was not so much the force of an individual argument or petition that moved him, but rather more just someone’s presence..." As a result, he had accumulated little relevant knowledge. "Almost all the professionals who were now set to join him were coming face to face with the fact that it appeared he knew nothing....Whatever he knew he seemed to have learned an hour before....Trump, the businessman, could not even read a balance sheet, and Trump, who had campaigned on his deal-making skills, was, with his inattention to details, a terrible negotiator..."

"Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate. (There was some argument about this, because he could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post’s Page Six.) Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he just didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate — total television. But not only didn’t he read, he didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking."


"For anything that smacked of a classroom or of being lectured to — ‘professor’ was one of his bad words, and he was proud of never going to class, never buying a textbook, never taking a note — he got up and left the room."

The young people working on his campaign said that Trump had bragged about never having listened to a single speech given by Obama.

In an interview while campaigning, Trump could not say how important health insurance was on his agenda. "Maybe it is in the top ten...Definitely top twenty for sure." Roger Ailes said, "No one in the country, or on earth, has given less thought to health insurance than Donald."

Trump favored gut instinct over "expertise, that liberal virtue...Of course, nobody really believed that, except the president himself." Furthermore, for him, "as for many showmen or press release entrepreneurs, the enemy of everything is complexity and red tape, and the solution for everything is cutting corners."

In one instance, when Roger Ailes recommended John Boehner — the Republican who had departed as Speaker of the House only five years earlier — Trump did not recognize the name. Rupert Murdoch "thought he was a moron — at least until he became president," when he had to cozy up to the president. All the key players in the White House, Wolff writes,

"had traveled through the stages of adventure, challenge, frustration, battle, self-justification, and doubt, before finally having to confront the very real likelihood that the president they worked for — whose presidency they bore some official responsibility for — didn’t have the wherewithal to adequately function in his job....The debate, as Bannon put it, was not about whether the president’s situation was bad, but whether it was Twenty-Fifth-Amendment bad."

Wolff recounts that, "in his first weeks in the White House, an inattentive Trump was already trying to curtail his schedule of meetings, limit his hours in the office, and keep his normal golf habits." Over the first year of the presidency, concerns about the president's mental fitness grew. "The worry among staffers — all of them concerned that Trump’s rambling and his alarming repetitions (the same sentences delivered with the same expressions minutes apart) had significantly increased, and that his ability to stay focused, never great, had notably declined — was that he was likely to suffer by such a comparison."

Hiring his children

Before the inauguration, Ann Coulter tried to explain to him: "Nobody is apparently telling you this. But you can’t. You just can’t hire your children." Later, Wolff wrote, everyone had to face

"the essential and obvious point: although the junior first couple were mere staffers and not part of the institutional standing of the White House, they thought and acted as if they were part of the presidential entity. Their ire and increasing bitterness came from some of the staff’s reluctance — really, a deep and intensifying resistance — to treat them as part and parcel of the presidency. (Once Priebus had to take Ivanka aside to make sure she understood that in her official role, she was just a staffer. Ivanka had insisted on the distinction that she was a staffer-slash-First Daughter.)"

To his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump assigned the project of Israeli-Palestinian relations. This "was not only a test, it was a Jewish test: the president was singling him out for being Jewish, rewarding him for being Jewish, saddling him with an impossible hurdle for being Jewish — and, too, defaulting to the stereotyping belief in the negotiating powers of Jews."

Perception that he generally approves of impulsive, chauvinistic, aggressive behavior

Trump wanted to dismiss the idea of giving the diplomat John Bolton an appointment because he didn't like Bolton's mustache. Bannon quipped that a rumor that Bolton "got in a fight in a hotel one night and chased some woman" might actually improve his standing in Trump's eyes.

Of his third marriage, Trump told friends that "the more years between an older man and a younger woman, the less the younger woman took an older man’s cheating personally."


Trump is "a man whose many neuroses included a horror of forgetfulness or senility," and he eats at McDonald's because he is afraid of being poisoned.

Refusal to clearly condemn neo-Nazis

The Charlottesville protests in August organized by Richard Spencer had the theme "Unite the Right," intended "to link Trump’s politics with white nationalism." After a racist killed an anti-racist protester, Trump said that "both sides" had credibility. Wolff writes: "As Richard Spencer had correctly understood, the president’s sympathies were muddled. However easy and obvious it was to condemn white racists — even self-styled neo-Nazis — he instinctively resisted." (Of his own ethnicity, he once defined "white trash" as "people just like me, only they’re poor.") When he gave a second speech to clarify, Wolff describes him this way: “Resentful and petulant, he was clearly reading forced lines.” He reveals that, on Trump’s trip back to Manhattan’s Trump Tower, “his mood was dark and I-told-you-so. Privately, he kept trying to rationalize why someone would be a member of the KKK — that is, they might not actually believe what the KKK believed, and the KKK probably does not believe what it used to believe, and, anyway, who really knows what the KKK believes now? In fact, he said, his own father was accused of being involved with the KKK — not true. (In fact, yes, true.)” After that, one of Trump's business councils "was hemorrhaging its CEO members" and someone advised him "to at least make it look as if shutting it down was his decision," so Trump tweeted "that he was disbanding it."

Lack of organization in the White House

Roger Ailes believed that Trump, unlike seasoned politicians accustomed to playing complex organizational games, "was undisciplined — he had no capacity for any game plan. He could not be a part of any organization, nor was he likely to subscribe to any program or principle. In Ailes’s view, he was 'a rebel without a cause.' He was simply 'Donald' — as though nothing more need be said."

Making it unclear who was running the show led to "both chaos and Trump’s own undisputed independence." Wolff explains that

"not really having an organization was the most efficient way to sidestep the people in your organization and to dominate them. It was just one irony of his courtship of admired military figures like James Mattis, H. R. McMaster, and John Kelly: they found themselves working in an administration that was in every way inimical to basic command principles....Then there was Bannon, conducting something of an alternate-universe operation, often launching far-reaching undertakings that no one else knew about. And thus Priebus, at the center of an operation that had no center, found it easy to think there was no reason for him to be there at all."

Is it effective? Sort of. "It was the chaos of just doing things that actually got things done. Except, even if you assumed that not knowing how to do things didn’t much matter if you just did them, it was still not clear who was going to do what you wanted to do. Or, a corollary, because nobody in the Trump administration really knew how to do anything, it was therefore not clear what anyone did."

Indeed, the reason Wolff was able to write Fire and Fury is that, while Trump "encouraged this idea" of getting "formal access to the White House," Wolff was unable to find a person who had the authority to grant or deny it. "Hence I became more a constant interloper than an invited guest — something quite close to an actual fly on the wall — having accepted no rules nor having made any promises about what I might or might not write." Beginning soon after the inauguration, he "conducted more than two hundred interviews" in the West Wing.

People had to figure out how to make him happy

"...the common purpose of the campaign and the urgency of the transition were lost as soon as the Trump team stepped into the White House. They had gone from managing Donald Trump to the expectation of being managed by him... [there were] few specific ideas about how to turn his themes and vitriol into policy, nor a team that could reasonably unite behind him. ... In the Trump White House, policy making, from the very first instance of Bannon’s immigration EO, flowed up. It was a process of suggesting, in throw-it-against-the-wall style, what the president might want, and hoping he might then think that he had thought of this himself (a result that was often helped along with the suggestion that he had in fact already had the thought). ... Hence, she and everyone else was translating a set of desires and urges into a program, a process that required a lot of guess work. It was, said Walsh, 'like trying to figure out what a child wants.'"

"This became a staff goal — to create situations in which he was comfortable, to construct something of a bubble, to wall him off from a mean-spirited world."

After nine months of Trump's presidency, "it was very hard to hire anyone of stature to replace the senior people who had departed. And the stature of those who remained seemed to be more diminutive by the week."

Fire and Fury #2 - Trump never intended to win the election

In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff argues that Donald Trump never intended to win the 2016 presidential election.

Wolff contends that Trump thought that Clinton had the better campaign ("They’ve got the best and we’ve got the worst") and that he never wanted to be president so his campaign "was not designed to win anything." He only wanted to become "the most famous man in the world" and possibly have his own cable network featuring Kellyanne Conway, which he could easily achieve by losing. The Republican Party establishment could then revert to business as usual and Steve Bannon could lead the Tea Party. He promised his wife Melania that he would not win, a prospect she feared would disrupt her personal life. Victory, in fact, would raise liabilities: Mike Flynn had accepted a $45,000 speaking fee from Russians while campaigning for Trump, and Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort had also historically had income that raised questions. Trump had to be persuaded to loan his own campaign $10 million (for him, a small sum). Trump explained to Roger Ailes that losing the election "isn’t losing. We’ve totally won." When his aide Sam Nunberg asked “But do you want to be president?,” Trump seemed to believe that "there didn’t need to be an answer because he wasn’t going to be president," as Wolff summarizes it. Unfortunately for Trump and for the country, "They were not ready to win." He cleverly says that they "had, perhaps less than inadvertently, replicated the scheme from Mel Brooks’s The Producers."

Immediately after winning, it seemed that Trump was "perhaps not yet appreciating the difference between becoming president and elevating his social standing". Unfortunately, "[t]he transmogrification of Trump from joke candidate, to whisperer for a disaffected demographic, to risible nominee, to rent-in-the-fabric-of-time president-elect, did not inspire in him any larger sense of sober reflection."

Nunberg, unwilling to call Trump "good," "intelligent," or "capable," would say only that "he’s a star." As Wolff put it, he was unable to "parse factions of support and opprobrium" which limited his political ability, but he had at least one talent: "He was a force of personality. He could make you believe." One powerful colleague found he needed "to adjust his view of a man who, for more than a generation, had been at best a clown prince among the rich and famous."

Yet he was made vulnerable by his accidental success. "In early February, an Obama administration lawyer friendly with Sally Yates remarked with some relish and considerable accuracy: 'It certainly is an odd circumstance if you live your life without regard for being elected and then get elected — and quite an opportunity for your enemies'." Trump became paranoid. He “would sour in the evening after several hours of cable television. Then he would get on the phone, and in unguarded ramblings to friends and others, conversations that would routinely last for thirty or forty minutes, and could go much longer, he would vent, largely at the media and his staff. In what was termed by some of the self-appointed Trump experts around him — and everyone was a Trump expert — he seemed intent on 'poisoning the well,' in which he created a loop of suspicion, disgruntlement, and blame heaped on others.”

Bannon spoke of the problems with Trump’s anti-establishment approach. As Wolff phrased it, “In the course of the campaign, Donald Trump had threatened virtually every institution in American political life.” The president had believed “that one man could be bigger than the system. This analysis presupposed that the institutions of political life were as responsive as those in the commercial life that Trump was from — and that they yearned to meet the market and find the Zeitgeist.” The Washington institutions, by contrast, seemed more resistant to change. Bannon said: "Trump is a man against institutions, and the institutions know it. How do you think that goes down?" In short, Trump had campaigned on an anti-establishment promise but he never intended to win and had no plan for taking down the establishment.

Fire and Fury #1 - The role of Steve Bannon

One of the most important themes in Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury (2018) is the role of Steve Bannon in the White House. In the book, we learn:

  • Bannon and Sessions agreed on anti-immigration positions before the Trump campaign. Articles from Bannon's media outlet, Breitbart, were given to Trump and formed many of his positions in the campaign. In this way, "[t]he Trump campaign became a sudden opportunity to see if nativism really had legs."
  • Bannon gave only one-word responses to emails ("partly a paranoia about email, but even more a controlling crypticness") and often didn't respond to phone calls at all. "You couldn’t really make an appointment with Bannon, you just had to show up."
  • Bannon wrote the 16-minute inaugural speech for Trump. It featured Bannon's "take-back-the-country America-first, carnage-everywhere vision for the country. But it actually became darker and more forceful when filtered through Trump’s disappointment and delivered with his golf face." George W. Bush said of it: “That’s some weird shit.”
  • Trump knew nothing about Afghanistan “other than that it was a quagmire” and “felt no need to know more.” Bannon thought that Afghanistan “represented the establishment’s inability to confront failure” and he believed that only he (and the president if he could convince him) “stood between consigning fifty thousand more American soldiers to hopelessness in Afghanistan.”
  • At first, Bannon (as did many others) made daily efforts to have a 6:30 p.m. dinner with Trump; however, "within a few months, they had become a torturous duty to be avoided." The president, for his part, preferred to be "in bed by that time with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls..."
  • Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump didn't get along with Bannon. "After months of defending Bannon against liberal media innuendo, Kushner had concluded that Bannon was an anti-Semite. That was the bottom-line issue." The couple also believed that "that Bannon had played a part in many of the reports of Kushner's interactions with the Russians" which meant that their mutual dislike was really "a death match."
  • Bannon said he believed the Russia investigation would focus on money laundering. Mueller and Weissmann would likely go "through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner," he predicted, before taking aim at the president. Bannon said of what the investigators could make Flynn reveal: "He [Trump] doesn’t necessarily see what’s coming."
  • Scaramucci told a journalist that, unlike Bannon, he was "not trying to suck my own cock." Wolff adds that "Bannon learned about the piece when fact-checkers from the magazine called him for comment about Scaramucci’s accusation that he sucked his own cock."
  • Bannon was "working from the outside and trying to take over the Trump movement" at the same time that other Republicans sought to "embarrass," "stymie," or "slay" it. Bannon believed that Trump had no chance at reelection and only a one-third chance of finishing his first term without the disgrace of resignation or impeachment. He was spreading this opinion along with the idea that he would run in 2020 instead, and he was “methodically meeting with every conservative leader in the country — doing his best, as he put it, to ‘kiss the ass and pay homage to all the gray-beards.’”

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What we all must do to make a more peaceful world

This is the magnitude of the task ahead in all our lives.

The ideas below were used to write an article for LinkedIn: "There is no button for peace."

Attain deeper understanding of emotions — your own and those of others

"The solution has to be found, as Krishnamurti has said, in the problem and not away from it. In other words, the 'bad' man's disturbing emotions and urgent desires have to be seen as they are — or, better, the moment in which they arise has to be seen as it is, without narrowing attention upon any aspect of it.
- Alan Watts

Attain deeper understanding of personal motivations — your own and those of others

"I am a convinced pacifist and for that reason I am curious to understand what make normal people brandish a gun."
- Enzo Baldoni

Attain deeper understanding of institutional agendas, especially the ones that leaders won't admit

"Clearly, we wouldn't have invaded Iraq if its chief export was cauliflower or carrots."
- Robert Fisk

Identify the wrongs you want to right

"The first lesson that tragedy teaches (and that morality plays miss) is that all violence is an attempt to achieve justice, or what the violent person perceives as justice, for himself or for whomever it is on whose behalf he is being violent, so as to receive whatever retribution or compensation the violent person feels is "due" him or "owed" to him, or to those on whose behalf he is acting, whatever he or they are "entitled" to or have a "right" to; or so as to prevent those whom one loves or identifies with from being subjected to injustice. Thus, the attempt to achieve and maintain justice, or to undo or prevent injustice, is the one and only universal cause of violence.
- James Gilligan

Do not address wrongs with extreme violence

"It is hardly possible to imagine that in the atomic era war could be used as an instrument of justice.
- Pope John XXIII

Acknowledge that the desire for violence is real

"It seems that when a society does not have natural processes (such as sex, death, and killing) before it, that society will respond by denying and warping that aspect of nature.
- Dave Grossman

Acknowledge what kinds of violence you perpetrate in your daily life

"We all participate in violence daily. The only questions are our degree of awareness, and what we do with that awareness." - Derrick Jensen

Think about who you really want to be

"For civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight's very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone."
- Rod Serling

Be aware of how you conduct your relationships

"It seems almost incredible that we could have been at war this long without defining precisely who or what we are at war with. But such is the case, and it has never seemed an urgent matter to lawmakers."
- Caleb Carr

Acknowledge that there have been real enemies, past and present

”Innocence in our day is the hope that there 'are no enemies' ... To hang on to this picture of innocence, you must deny history. ... Hence so many of the new generation turn their backs on history as irrelevant; they do not like it, they are not part of it, they insist we are in a brand-new ball game with new rules. And they are completely unaware that this is the ultimate act of hubris.
- Rollo May

Don't paint the world as 'us/them'

”The United States Secret Service has a dualistic worldview. There is the president, and then there are the people who could hurt, kill, maim, injure, or otherwise bother the president. They are known as ‘everyone else.’ It is an official term. It includes staff, audiences, family members, and sometimes pets.”
- David Kuo

Reject the 'us/them' shortcut to a sense of purpose

”Holy war intensifies the boundaries between Us and Them, satisfying the inherently human longing for a clear identity and a definite purpose in life, creating a seductive state of bliss.”
- Jessica Stern

Remember that the safeties and threats of the present may be different than those of the past

”We seem to feel somehow that because the hydrogen bomb has not killed us yet, it is never going to kill us. This is a dangerous assumption because it encourages the retention of traditional attitudes about world politics when our responsibility, in Dr. Chisholm's words, is nothing less than ‘to re-examine all of the attitudes of our ancestors and to select from those attitudes things which we, on our own authority in these present circumstances, with our knowledge, recognize as still valid in this new kind of world...'"
- Sen. J. William Fulbright

Allow that even that which seems inborn can be redirected

"...these two approaches [to the origin of violence, nature and nurture] are not mutually exclusive. Aggression is part of the basic equipment of men, but it is also culturally formed, exacerbated, and can be, at least in part, redirected.
- Rollo May

Change your thinking

"We cannot solve the problems that we have created with the same thinking that created them."
- Albert Einstein

Let your new thoughts transform your actions

"Because when one person thinks fight! he or she finds a fight. One faction thinks war! and starts a war. One nation thinks nuclear! and approaches the abyss. And what of one nation which thinks peace, and seeks peace?"
Dennis Kucinich

Change your toolbox

"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.
- Audre Lorde

Do not launch the first strike

"Hitting first has always been the mark of evil. I don't think one great religious or spiritual thinker has said that it was OK. Everyone, from almost every tradition, agrees on three things. Rule 1: We are all family. Rule 2: It is immoral to hit first. Rule 3: You reap exactly what you sow. You cannot grow tulips from zucchini seeds, or peace from murder. And, it helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.
Anne Lamott

Communicate what you know about yourself and listen to others

"People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Look into the real options and consequences, and challenge the way others frame them

”Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld aptly summarized the prevailing view in October 2001: 'We have two choices. Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter.' If, today, this black-and-white perspective seems a trifle oversimplified, between 2002 and 2004, no politician of national stature had the wit or the gumption to voice a contrary view.”
- Andrew J. Bacevich

Go wider and challenge bigger frames of personal and national identity and goals

”In the Vietnam era, we watched a great nation descend into tragedy because of its inability to break the spell of such mythic metaphors as domino effect and containment of communism."
- Sam McKeen

Don't punish people who challenge your frame

”I asked why we sent missionaries to Africa but didn't have any contact with black people, or even black churches, in our own city.
I was told that we were all better off separated...Other whites said that blacks were happy with the way things were...And if they had problems, they probably deserved them...Some people told me that asking these questions would only get me into trouble. That proved to be the only honest answer I ever got in the white community.”
- Jim Wallis

Don't mistake a challenge to your ideology as a challenge to your existence

"Here, in Spain, a man is simply stood up against a wall and he gives up his entrails to the stones of the courtyard. You have been captured. You are shot. Reason: your ideas were not our ideas."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Don't insult others intentionally

“‘Raca,' the word for ‘fool’ that Jesus forbade people to use, is Aramaic for ‘empty.’ Words like that attempt to obliterate someone's existence.”

 - Paul Ramsey

Don't insult others accidentally by attributing names and ideas to them

My colleague has said that he never offends other people's beliefs. What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names they did not choose for themselves? Once he calls them Ahl al-Dhimma, another time he calls them the "People of the Book," and yet another time he compares them to apes and pigs, or he calls the Christians "those who incur Allah's wrath." Who told you they are "People of the Book"? They are not the People of the Book, they are people of many books. All the useful scientific books you have today are theirs, the fruit of their free and creative thinking. What gives you the right to call them "those who incur Allah's Wrath," or "those who have gone astray," and the come here and say that your religion commands you to refrain from offending the beliefs of others?

- Wafa Sultan

Don't project onto others

"...we have an eternal enemy, which is our ego. The tragic mistake is to identify that enemy with other people..."
- Michael Nagler

Improve your predictive skills and be willing to act on them

"Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth."
- Albert Schweitzer

Require humility from leaders

"The ruler who wants to be above the people must speak of himself as below them.
If he wants to be ahead of the people, he must keep himself behind them.”
- Lao Tzu

Turn your beliefs into action

”Anyone can love peace, but Jesus doesn't say, 'Blessed are the peacelovers.' He says peacemakers.
- Jim Wallis

Choose actions that have great effect on the world

”For these reasons such direct actions as the burning of draft cards probably does more to retard than to advance the views of those who take such action. The burning of a draft card is a symbolic act, really a form of expression rather than action, and it is stupid and vindictive to punish it as a crime. But it is also an unwise act, unwise because it is shocking rather than persuasive to most Americans and because it exposes the individual to personal risk without political reward.”
- Sen. J. William Fulbright

Be aware that group action can intensify or alter your personal beliefs

"The intensity of mob action has led some social critics to speculate on the theory of a 'collective mind' operating at the moment of violent mob destruction, that the participants are no longer themselves and are acting foreign to their experiences and beliefs. I contend that such mob action serves to reinforce belief... There is not a change in the basic structure of beliefs which mobilize the crowd into action; rather, there is a period of strain during which those beliefs manifest themselves in collective behavior."
- Trudier Harris

Pay attention to the results of your actions

"It's racist if the hurting people of color. Whether or not it's intentional, that's the outcome."
- Gladys Gould

Think about how you affect real people, not just institutions or nations

“My years of experience in Jordan, and my current work with the United Nations and other international organizations, has convinced me that real security — security that is sustainable and genuine — must focus on the needs of human beings, not just nations. True security is not only a matter of protecting borders from military aggression, or achieving technological or economic dominance, but of providing a stable, safe, and healthy environment for all citizens — women, amen, and children — of all races and creeds to participate fully in economic, cultural, and political life. People must work together because no one — even the most wealthy and powerful country in the world — will enjoy true security if others in our interdependent world suffer injustice and deprivation. Given the global rise of extremism on all sides in recent years, it is very easy to turn inward, recoil from risk, and avoid reaching out to others. For all of our sakes, we can no longer afford to allow ourselves to be imprisoned by our fears and differences.”
- Queen Noor

Make a pathway to talk to your enemies

"If Bush insists on identifying all of the insurgents with al-Qaida, then there isn't anyone with whom we can negotiate."
- Joe Conason

Find a way to acknowledge and accept differences

"To encourage reconciliation, Rwanda has embarked on an experiment to change completely the way a new generation thinks about itself. Now, officially, no one is a Hutu or Tutsi; there are only Rwandans. Ethnicity, the genocide's alleged cause, is being outlawed."
- The Economist

Prepare for the perpetual challenges that differences bring

"The Indians and ourselves will long be at war. It has never ceased and possibly will not cease in the foreseeable future. What must be hoped for is not exactly 'peace,' but a creative tension. Peace does not create heroic achievement. There must be challenge that forces the best that is in us to emerge into its proper expression, challenge that brings about dimensions in human achievement that would not otherwise be attained. Just now, however, the disproportion in size and power seems to remove all possibility of truly creative relationships that would be neither destructive nor paternalistic. yet in the dialectic of human affairs, size and power eventually become self-destructive; the inequalities may eventually be leveled and the ancient fruitful combat relationships revived in a new setting."
- Thomas Berry

Transform your enemies into friends

"True security, as the Buddha said, comes not from defeating enemies but from not having any..."
Michael Nagler

Focus on positive feelings of belonging to a group

"We-feeling is good for your health. It lowers your heart rate, reduces stress hormones, makes you sleep better and think more clearly."
David Berreby

See peace as a precondition for human rights

Peace is a civil right which makes other human rights possible. Peace is the precondition of our existence. Peace permits our continued existence.

 - Dennis Kucinich

See peace as the continued actualization of human rights

"Among individuals, as among nations, peace is the respect of the others’ rights."
- Benito Juarez

Don't let someone else's 'talking points' confuse you or polarize your group

"We will have some rebuilding to do after this war. We all know it. The destruction is devastating. We will have to start with our collective intelligence. It is getting blasted. The collateral damage has been ugly. ... I hate this war because it makes the country I love look scared and stupid. I hate it because we went through a laundry list of a half dozen reasons to invade Iraq and we never seemed sure which one was going to hold up. I hate it because it seems it was a done deal months ago and all the debate and diplomacy have been deceptive window dressing. But I hate it most for what it is doing to us. It is turning us mean and snarling and suspicious of each other, and there is no good reason for it. I think we are being set up and being played."
- Bob Kerr

Know that anything you choose freely resists those who would control you

Any neutrality, indeed any spontaneously given friendship, is from the standpoint of totalitarian domination just as dangerous as open hostility, precisely because spontaneity as such, with its incalculability, is the greatest of all obstacles to total dominion over man.
- Hannah Arendt

Persist in what you know is right despite the attitudes of your opponents

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
- M. K. Gandhi

Allow space for sudden insight

"'We just woke up.' After hearing the same response from gang members making truces in other cities, the meaning of the young man's words began to dawn on me. I recalled that waking up is a spiritual metaphor for conversion."
- Jim Wallis

Admit that peace is hard work and the work never ends

"We have thought of peace as the passive and war as the active way of living. The opposite is true. War is not the most strenuous life. It is a kind of rest-cure compared to the task of reconciling our differences."
- Mary Parker Follett

Be ready to 'wait and see'

"And from her [the city of Ashdod] we shall see what will flower when peace and a little repose finally come.
Patience, I say. There is no shortcut."
- Amos Oz


Alan Watts, Nature, Man, and Woman (1958). New York: Vintage Books, 1991. p. 68.

Enzo Baldoni, freelance Italian journalist captured and killed in Iraq in 2004, quoted in La Repubblica (Rome), according to "Italy horror at hostage execution," CNN, August 27, 2004.

Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the Independent of London, interviewed by David Barsamian in April 2005. The Progressive, June 2005. Excerpted in Utne. Sept.-Oct. 2005. p 73.

James Gilligan. Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. (1996) New York: Vintage Books, 1997. pp. 11-12.

Pope John XXIII, quoted in James Carroll. An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. p 73-4.

Dave Grossman. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1995. p xxviii.

Derrick Jensen. Endgame. Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006. p. 407.

Rod Serling, in "The Shelter." The Twilight Zone television series

"Wrong Definition for a War." Caleb Carr. Washington Post, July 28, 2004.

Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1972. p. 56.

David Kuo. Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. New York: Free Press, 2006. p. 154.

Jessica Stern. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: Ecco, 2003. p. 137.

Sen. J. William Fulbright. The Arrogance of Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1966. pp. 8-9. Quoting Brock Chisholm, Prescription for Survival. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957. p. 9.

Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1972. p 38.

Dennis Kucinich. A Prayer for America. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2003. p 85.

Audre Lorde, quoted by Starhawk, Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery, New York: Harper Collins, 1987. p. 20.

Anne Lamott, Seeds of Peace, 2003

Martin Luther King, Jr. Quoted in "Sunbeams," the quotations page of The Sun. November 2012. p. 48.

Andrew J. Bacevich. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008. pp. 57-58.

Sam McKeen's Preface to Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey: Finding Meaning in Your Life Through Writing and Storytelling. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1989. p. x. (This is a revised version of Telling Your Story, originally published 1973.)

Jim Wallis. The Soul of Politics: Beyond 'Religious Right' and 'Secular Left'. New York: Harvest, 1995. pp. 88-89.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Wind, Sand and Stars. (1939) Translated into English by Lewis Galantiere. London: The Folio Society, 1990. p. 162.

Paul Ramsey. Nine Modern Moralists. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1962. p 23.

Wafa Sultan, Arab-American psychologist, on a talk show on Memri TV (Al Jazeera, Qatar, February 21, 2006), speaking in Arabic, with English subtitles.

Michael Nagler, interviewed by David Kupfer. “Nonviolence, Spiritual Growth, and Real Security.” Whole Earth, Fall 2002. p 46.

Albert Schweitzer, quoted in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

Lao Tzu, quoted by Alan Watts, Nature, Man, and Woman, New York: Vintage Books, 1991 (Copyright 1958). pp. 38-39.

Jim Wallis. The Call to Conversion: Why Faith is Always Personal but Never Private. Revised and Updated. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005. (Originally 1981.) p 108.

Sen. J. William Fulbright. The Arrogance of Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1966. p. 39.

Trudier Harris. Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, c 1984. p 13.

Gladys Gould, a Providence resident speaking on behalf of Jobs with Justice, quoted in "Critics say cuts to Rite Care would hurt Hispanics most." Elizabeth Gudrais. Providence Journal. (Rhode Island.) March 31, 2006. p A1.

Queen Noor. Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life. New York: Hyperion, 2003. p. 442.

Joe Conason. "Only one option?" Feb 3, 2006. Accessed Feb. 3, 2006.

"The difficulty of trying to stop it happening ever again." The Economist. April 11-17, 2009. p. 46.

Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988. p 190

Michael Nagler, interviewed by David Kupfer. “Nonviolence, Spiritual Growth, and Real Security.” Whole Earth, Fall 2002. p 46.

Dennis Kucinich. A Prayer for America. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2003. p 77.

Mexican statesman Benito Juárez, quoted in the AP. The Week, April 4, 2014, p. 15.

"The damage is closer than we think." Bob Kerr. Providence Journal. March 26, 2003.

Hannah Arendt. The Burden of Our Time. London: Secker and Warburg, 1951. Published in the US as The Origins of Totalitarianism. p 428.

David Berreby. Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind. New York: Little, Brown, and Co. 2005. p 223.

Jim Wallis. The Soul of Politics: Beyond 'Religious Right' and 'Secular Left'. New York: Harvest, 1995. p. 21.

Mary Parker Follett. Quoted in "Sunbeams," the quotations page of The Sun. November 2012. P. 48.

Amos Oz. In the Land of Israel. (1983) Translated by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura. USA: Harcourt, Inc., 1993. p. 241.