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Author: Frank Yacenda

Shouting Past Each Other

Shouting Past Each Other

For several years now, I have been in the habit of listening to the liberals in the morning and the conservatives in the afternoon. My rationale for this is that I want to hear both sides of various current arguments and issues. Not being an adherent to either political persuasion – I consider myself both a libertarian and independent – I find lots of cause for annoyance across the political spectrum, though in truth I find lots more grounds for annoyance originating from the left than from the right. It has been this way for some time, but the trend seems to be accelerating lately.

What has increasingly occurred to me is that there not only seem to be at least two entirely different conversations going on, with some sub-sets within each, but those conversations are based on entirely different sets of facts and, without doubt, vastly different world views. And as this trend continues and deepens, the conversations – again, especially on the liberal side – seem to be degrading into shouting matches.

I’ve always believed that we all can disagree, but that disagreement is based on the same sets of facts. Now, listening in to these two camps, one increasingly begins to wonder if there are even such things as facts any more, and what facts there might be seem to be mutable, with each side holding and citing two almost completely different sets of them. And that’s ostensibly on the news and news analysis side of things. In the realm of entertainment, the divisions appear to be even greater, and sub-sets of divisions, between the coasts and what is called fly-over country, between white and black, between younger and older, between cities and rural areas, and even schisms between and among residents of the same cities and the same states become ever more evident.

While I listen to these things daily, becoming somewhat inured to them, someone coasting in from out there somewhere and catching these battling views for the first time might be justified to conclude that we are going through a kind of societal crack up.

Without a basis in common facts, the arguments become self-justifying. Each side builds its logic like competing jenga towers teetering atop bases of illusory blocks, seemingly ignoring the laws of physics and the pull of reality. When things become too difficult to justify based on factuality, the next step is simply to raise the volume. Speech rises to shouting and shouting to screaming, as if decibels are a stand-in for rationality. See me, the shouters seem to say, I can yell louder than you so I must be right and you must be wrong.

We’ve seen this in street demonstrations, where one almost comes to expect such behavior. We’ve seen it on cable TV, with panelists shouting at each other to the point no one, least of all the viewers, can make out what is being said. And now we see it in Congressional hearings, where raising one’s voice and speaking over the subject of one’s disdain appears to be a substitute for actually seeking answers to questions. We saw this during Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, with Democrats like California’s Sen. Kamala Harris insistently speaking over Attorney General Jeff Sessions, her grandstanding meant to block out whatever Sessions might actually have to say and, ostensibly, to discredit him. And then Sessions is later heckled by the liberal media for becoming flustered and stymied by such obviously pre-planned tirades and Harris painted as some sort of victim because she’s a woman and black.

This dismissal of inconvenient facts seems to be a hallmark of the 21st Century in this country. If we come to realize that the Iraq War was a folly, we dismiss the fact that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats voted in support of it. If the IRS abuses its power in going after conservative groups, we look the other way and ignore it as if it never happened. If the Obama Administration failed to protect or attempt to rescue Americans under attack in Benghazi, we say there is no there there and don’t question why the Administration found it necessary to concoct and promulgate a lie about what actually happened. And if Hillary Clinton violated federal law and jeopardized the country’s security, we ignore it and her non-prosecution and justify voting for her anyway. And when facts turn out differently than we have been told they are, such as that there is no chance Donald Trump can ever be elected President, we throw a tantrum and question his legitimacy and hold his bloody head in our hands. How dare reality intrude on our manufactured view of how things should turn out?

Like I said, I find lots more to annoy me on the left than on the right, but the right is not without its own sets of facts and fictions. I think at this point there is little question but that Trump can be his own worst enemy, despite the efforts of many on the right to defend his every misstep, and even many of his supporters hope someone will take away his phone and throw it in the toilet. And while he gets no credit on the left for what he does right, there is little criticism from the right of what he does wrong. And let’s not forget that, despite years of bellyaching about the ills of Obamacare, the Republicans showed themselves utterly bereft of a viable alternative plan.

While I can understand the urge to overcompensate on the right to counter the venom spewing like a volcano from the left and the anti-Trump crowd, there is truth in what many of us were taught as children, which is that two wrongs do not a right make.

But my assertion remains, which is that we’re not arguing over the same facts and realities, but over completely different sets of facts, completely different realities. And therein lies much of the problem.

How did this state come to be? I think there are a number of factors in play, some of which are the result of changes in technology and how we communicate, and some of which go back much further and are rooted in the same sources that have led to the general alienation and disconnectedness we have come to take for granted in our society, and to the coarsening and degradation of dialogue.

In past decades, as recently as the 1990s but going back well before that, we had a basis for a common dialogue. Not that everyone agreed, which they didn’t, but at least there was a common set of facts we could and would debate over. We had three primary television networks, three primary sets of national news reporting, and, in effect, three focal points for a national audience. Locally, we might have had one or two or three newspapers which, while they might have diverged somewhat in viewpoint, made an effort to at least deal in common facts. And one could make one’s views known through a letter to the editor which had a decent chance of showing up on the editorial page.

All that has changed in the past 20 years. While the three TV networks prevail, there is now cable television with new sources and new, and often radically divergent, views on the news. There is social media, like Facebook and Twitter. And there are hundreds and thousands of online so-called news sites and blogs (full disclosure: including this one), where there is no prevailing view or even any prevailing agreement on the facts. Daily newspaper readership has dwindled to the point that it’s not clear how long newspapers will even remain viable. Our news sources have become fractured almost beyond description, as has our national dialogue. Anyone can spout any sort of nonsense one wants, any sort of venom, any set of facts, real or fabricated, and there is a place for it on the Internet. Try to express one’s views, like one could before with a letter to the editor or even in some online forums, and there is a high likelihood it will be lost in a flood of conflicting and often nutty comments, and diluted by multiple places to even post one’s views. What if one doesn’t use Twitter? One’s views might never see light. And have you read much on Twitter? The same 140-character vision of reality (whatever that might be) repeated 100 times.

With all this fracturing of communication, there also is a tendency toward recycling. When I was trained as a journalist 30-some years ago, it was considered tacky, if not downright improper, for journalists to interview other journalists. It was expected that one would go out and find original sources for stories, or even commentary, and that one would at least make an effort at balancing one’s stories. Now journalists interview other journalists incessantly, with little or no effort at balance, and this incestuous relationship just builds on and furthers this tendency toward competing and non-overlapping conversations. So-and-so at the New York Times or the Washington Post reported this, so it must be correct, and I’ll base my reporting and blathering on those reports (which more often than not are based on anonymous sources readers or viewers or listeners have no means of vetting for themselves).

Going back further, we see how things like air conditioning in our homes and the rise of the automobile moved people indoors and off public transport, breeding the kind of alienation and social separation that has been with us and growing for many decades. Now we have people with their noses buried in their devices – it’s common to see even friends and lovers incommunicado with one another as they focus on their smart phones – and our interpersonal distance simply grows exponentially and, along with it, any sense of a common dialogue. The Culture of the Id seems to prevail over all.

While all this was going on, our dialogue also seems to have become coarsened. We no longer seem capable of conducting civil discussions with those with whom we disagree. Whether in Congress, or in the media, or in our personal interactions, it’s become acceptable to spout all sorts of untruths and distortions, to issue threats, and to cut off communication, simply because we might disagree. This seems to be mostly, if not exclusively, a tendency on the left, and I have had supposedly “liberal” friends going back half a century break off contact with me simply since I didn’t agree with everything that came out of their mouths or off their keyboards, no matter how logically flawed or factually incorrect it might be.

I like to see the bright side of things and a way out of dark places and times, but I confess I’m at a bit of a loss on this one. In some ways we appear to be on the verge of a Vietnam Era breakdown, and I guess the one bright side might be that our discourse has become so fragmented that even that kind of two-sided split may no longer be possible. But I think that is false optimism. We see battling demonstrations, people being gunned down for their perceived views, looting and lawlessness, widespread dissent across the political spectrum and, along with all these things, competing realities that make any common effort at resolution virtually impossible. Given current trends, I’m afraid I just see more of what we have, and that’s not positive.

I’ll probably continue to listen to the liberals in the morning and the conservatives in the afternoon, knowing that ultimately we all need to form our own judgments and, to the extent we can, protect ourselves from whatever the latest new cause either side might concoct that will come raining down on our heads.

I’d love to hear dissenting views and maybe some insights on ways forward. I’m open to having my mind changed, as challenging as that might be. But that’s how I see things from here.

 

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there and here.

Anniversaries of Justice and Injustice

Anniversaries of Justice and Injustice

Today is June 12 in this part of the world, and it is a day of major anniversaries, some of justice, some of injustice. All noteworthy in one way or another.

 

Pulse Remembrance Day

Most current, it is the first anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. To refresh any memories that need refreshing, 49 people were killed and another 58 people wounded by a Muslim fanatic gunman in the nightclub, largely frequented by gay patrons. It was an act of hate, the product of a twisted vision, undertaken by Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard. Mateen, who himself was shot dead by Orlando police responding to emergency calls for help from the nightclub, pledged his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS (ISIL), and claimed in a 911 call prior to the attack that it was provoked by the killing of ISIS leader Abu Waheeb by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike the previous month.

Mateen was born in the U.S., lived in Fort Pierce on Florida’s east coast, and had a record of making threats against people’s lives, using racial slurs and expressing dislike of black people, Jews, Hispanics, and gays, and was accused of being physically abusive and “mentally unstable and mentally ill” by his first wife. There also is considerable evidence indicating Mateen himself was gay, and there were reports of him frequenting the Pulse nightclub on a number of occasions prior to his murderous attack.

Meanwhile, Mateen’s second wife and widow, Noor Salman, is currently under arrest and awaiting trial next March for aiding and abetting her husband’s actions, going so far as to accompany him the night before while he purchased five containers of ammunition for use in the attack.

There have been significant commemorations of the Pulse attack in Orlando and elsewhere, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott has proclaimed June 12 as Pulse Remembrance Day and ordered flags flown at half-staff in the state.

 

Tear Down This Wall”

It was also on this date, in 1987, that former President Ronald Reagan addressed those words to then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev during a speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. It took another two-plus years for the wall to open, and then to fall, but it was on this date 30 years ago today that Reagan issued the challenge to Gorbachev to bring down the barrier that split the German people and was an enduring symbol of Communist repression and injustice since its erection in 1961.

Less known about the call to tear down the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent end of East Germany and the reunification of Germany, is that other Western leaders, notably British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President François Mitterand, opposed unification, fearing that it would adversely affect the balance of power that had contained German ascendancy since the end of World War II.

 

The End of Anti-Miscegenation Laws in the U.S.

On June 12, 1967 – 50 years ago today – the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, ruled that anti-miscegenation laws that made interracial marriage illegal were unconstitutional. With that single decision, all remaining such laws, which still existed across the South and a couple of border states, were struck down.

The ironically named case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison, with the sentence suspended on the condition they leave the commonwealth, for violating Virginia’s law that prohibited such interracial marriage. The couple had been married in the District of Columbia, where there was no such prohibition, in 1958, but when they settled back in Virginia the police, acting on a tip, raided the couple’s home during the night, hoping to catch them having sex, also prohibited under Virginia law at the time.

In 1964, frustrated in not being able to visit their families in Virginia, the Lovings filed a legal action to challenge their ban from the state. The case worked its way through the Virginia court system, with each level upholding the law and the Lovings’ sentence, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. And on June 12, 1967, the court issued its landmark decision stating that laws such as Virginia’s violated both the due process and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

June 12 has become known as Loving Day, and the Loving case was cited as precedent a dozen times in the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges in which the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not prohibit same-sex marriage.

 

The Beginning of Anne Frank’s Diary

It was on her 13th birthday, June 12, 1942 – 75 years ago today – that Anne Frank received the red, checkered autograph book she had picked out with her father the prior day as a birthday present. It was that book that became the first volume in her famous diary. She began writing in the book two days later, and she documented in it, in two subsequent volumes and on some loose pages, the two years and one month in which she, her sister, and her father and mother, along with the family of Anne’s father’s business partner, were kept concealed from the Gestapo and the Dutch police in the upper floors of an annex of her father’s Amsterdam factory.

The Frank and van Pels families were Jewish and subject to the Nazi sweep to exterminate the Jews. They remained secreted in the annex until being discovered and deported to Nazi concentration camps in August 1944. Anne died of typhus in 1945 at the age of 15 at the Bergen-Belsen camp, anywhere from weeks to months – the exact date of her death is unknown – before the camp was liberated by British troops. Her memory and words endure through her diary, which came to be known as The Diary of a Young Girl.

 

And in Brazil . . .

June 12 is Dia dos Namorados – Lovers Day – in Brazil, since it falls on the eve of the anniversary of the death of St. Anthony of Padua, known for blessing couples with happy and prosperous marriages. Since Valentine’s Day falls in February and is so close to Carnaval, it’s not celebrated in Brazil. Instead, Dia dos Namorados is the Brazilian equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

June 12, a momentous day indeed, this June 12 even more so.

 

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there, and here.

Threading the Needle Badly

Threading the Needle Badly

Like many, if by no means all, Americans on June 8, I watched the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee on live television. My perception was that Comey’s testimony was deliberately crafted to be self-serving and to deflect criticism from himself to his former boss, President Donald Trump. It also was my perception that, in trying to thread the needle of truth, he did it clumsily. In the end, he indicted himself at least as much as he indicted the President.

Comey has a disarming “gee-whiz” way about him that causes him to come across as a good guy – a characteristic of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn that he and Trump, according to Comey’s testimony, agreed on – and his reputation has been one of a straight shooter. I can’t say much of his previous service, but that reputation has to be called into question after his actions and public statements during the past year, the June 8 testimony not dispelling those questions. It’s been said Comey is not a political animal, but it is hard not to see so much of what he’s done and said in the past months as anything other than political. Ironically, Comey has garnered criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, was fired by Trump and lambasted by Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and yet his apparent leanings toward the Dems are hard (to be generous) to ignore. Harder to ignore is his apparently muddled approach to things that demand clarity, not confusion.

That is all back story to yesterday’s testimony. Watching it unfold, I heard a lot of statements that either seemed to not say a great deal or which could be read, alternatively, as exonerating the President of wrong-doing, or not exonerating him, depending on one’s view and predisposition. But the general tedium came crashing down, along – literally – with my jaw when Comey related how he had written a supposedly “private” memo about a meeting with the President in the Oval Office, which he subsequently provided to a “friend” with the expectation this friend would leak the memo to the media. I could hardly believe that an FBI director would do such a thing, and that he would publicly admit, apparently with some pride, to having done it was even more shocking.

There are times recently, just listening to Comey, I have had to wonder whether he was, in the vernacular, “losing it.” Some of his statements have sounded borderline deranged, or at least very much like whinging. But when he made this statement before the Senate committee, I was absolutely flabbergasted. Perhaps he saw himself as playing up to what he perceives as his audience in the media, but in the process he was admitting to the very real possibility that he had violated federal law. Comey also, as was pointed out by legal expert Jonathan Turley earlier today, seriously undermined his credibility as a potential witness in the unlikely event that any criminal charges eventually are leveled against the President.

This onion is so big it’s hard to determine where to start peeling it. For argument’s sake, had Comey felt the President was in fact trying to influence the outcome or direction or even conduct of an FBI investigation, he had an affirmative obligation under 18 U.S. Code Section 4 to report it. Not to a friend, not to a professor at Columbia University (that’s who this friend is), not to the New York Times, but to the Justice Department. Failure to do is arguably a crime. Surely the head of the FBI should know this. Surely he should know that, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of a crime, it represents an astounding lapse of judgment, a lapse further aggravated by going public with it under oath. Apparently Comey didn’t, and still doesn’t.

The next layer of this onion concerns how Comey went about this. Again under oath, he admitted to using a government laptop in a government vehicle to write a private memo, with the intent of leaking it, of an official meeting with the President. Comey insisted the memo contained no classified information, and that may well be true, but that is a peripheral issue. What Comey did as FBI director was in his official capacity as a U.S. Government employee – a rather highly placed one, one might add – and his notes and memos didn’t belong to him. They are the property of the U.S. Government and, by extension, of the American people. Whether these acts would qualify for prosecution is irrelevant. They were clearly improper and ill-advised, and they reflect more than poorly on someone in Comey’s position. Perhaps Comey was afraid of getting fired if he reported his suspicions about Trump through proper channels, but that is a flimsy excuse and indefensible. If the President was violating the law, that pales in comparison to fears for one’s job. What kind of personal cowardice was Comey acting from?

It’s little wonder that Comey, on March 20, said the FBI wouldn’t be going after government leaks to the media. No crime, no problem, as the old adage goes, but also perhaps another indication of Comey covering his own ass. It’s also little wonder that Comey, initially, declined to testify before the Senate committee and, after yesterday’s performance, maybe he shouldn’t have.

While most in the so-called mainstream media have been quick to jump on Comey’s testimony as damning of Trump, it was at least as damning of Comey. In fact, it was Comey himself who testified that he told Trump at least three times that he was not the subject of an FBI investigation. Yet, in the same session, Comey admitted that he agreed with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to categorize the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s misuse of her official emails as “a matter” rather than as “an investigation.” While Comey said it made him “queasy” (as if we should care), he agreed to the request. Comey also made no official recommendation after Mr. Hillary “Bill” Clinton met with AG Lynch for half an hour in an aircraft on the tarmac in Phoenix while the FBI was looking into his wife’s actions. Obstruction of justice? Any more so than Trump saying he “hoped” the FBI would conclude its investigation of his campaign? Today Lynch is pushing back against Comey’s allegation, so we can assume it hit some nerve, perhaps a legal one, in the former AG.

Now let’s get real about all this. It really doesn’t matter whether Comey, or Trump, or Lynch, or either of the Clintons broke the law. It all comes down to politics, and the separate legal system that exists for people like that than for the rest of us. I am a former Foreign Service Officer and former intel analyst, and I have said all along that, had I done what Hillary Clinton did with her emails and email servers, I would be in prison. I have no doubt of that and, were I not prosecuted and imprisoned for such misdeeds as Hillary Clinton committed, there would be something radically wrong with the system. Well, guess what? There is something radically wrong with the system.

It was Comey who should be held personally responsible for putting his finger on the scale and letting Hillary off the hook. Even by his own extended public statement – itself unprecedented – last July, Clinton met every requirement for committing a felony offense under Section 793(f) of Title 18 of the federal penal code. Even with the most cursory look at what Hillary did, and the disregard with which she held either the law or the security of the American people, it would be obvious how she violated both the law and the high trust that was placed in her. And Comey made note of that. But then it was Comey who went on to invent a new legal concept (“intent,” something the actual statute does not require when gross negligence is involved, as it was) to let Clinton off the hook. He proceeded to extrapolate that made-up concept to postulate there were not sufficient grounds to mount a prosecution of then-candidate Clinton. Those of us who signed those agreements concerning handling of classified material at the State Dept. knew that was bogus, and the interests of the American people, ostensibly the basis for the statute, were tossed out to protect one privileged person.

I have to almost choke on the hypocrisy of those making such a big deal about possible Russian meddling in the U.S. election, something Comey dwelled on in his testimony before the Senate committee. If one ignores the fact that the Russians, and the Soviets before them, have always tried to meddle in our affairs, if one ignores the fact that the U.S. is guilty of far more meddling in other countries’ affairs – even to the point of overthrowing other countries’ governments – and if one ignores the more recent fact that the Obama Administration actively paid for and sent campaign advisers to Israel to work (unsuccessfully) against the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – all inconvenient facts studiously ignored by the mainstream media – there is little doubt that Hillary Clinton’s wanton negligence in handling highly classified information almost certainly did far more to jeopardize the security of the country than anything the Russians might have done during the campaign.

In fact, Hillary goes a long way toward proving the old adage that no good turn goes unpunished. While Comey single-handedly prevented her prosecution, that hasn’t stopped her from accusing Comey of tipping the scales leading to her defeat. She asks us to ignore the utterly crappy campaign she conducted, in her “blame-everyone-but-myself” crusade, while attacking Comey. While it’s sometimes true that being hated by both sides is an indication you’re doing something right, it can also indicate you’re going about things very wrongly. I would argue the latter applies in Comey’s case. Worse, I would argue that Comey was derelict in his duties as FBI director to pursue the law and justice and not involve himself in any extraneous issues.

Anyway, if anyone was expecting Comey to bring clarity to the current imbroglio engulfing Washington and on which the “all-Trump-all-the-time” media is fixated, they must surely be disappointed. We’re just at the beginning of this road, and Comey’s muddled testimony only confirmed and, if anything, assured that. Meanwhile, don’t count on anyone of note being brought to justice, and don’t count on much being done to fix the many things that need fixing in this country, now that Congress has yet another excuse to dither and delay.

 

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there, and here.

Not To Be Pigeon-Holed

Not To Be Pigeon-Holed

This blog and site have been a long time in coming, and now that the time is here, I’m honestly having a hard time determining how best to launch it. So I guess I just will.

I’ve always had diverse interests, and these are reflected in my writings. And many of those writings, and interests, are reflected on this site. On the one hand there are essays on political, economic, social, and other topics. But I’m also interested in business, and that interest is reflected here, too. And sometimes I just like to goof around with my writing. You’ll probably find some evidence of that, in time.

The postings on this blog are going to reflect my different interests, too, and if any of the topics interest you, as I hope they will, I invite you to stop back and see what my latest take is on them.

There is something else you should know, too. While my writings are not to be pigeon-holed, neither am I. I call things as I see them, and I don’t adhere to any one political persuasion, and my social views are my own. You may or may not agree with what I have to say – there’s at least an even chance you won’t – but that’s okay. You’re welcome to your own views and to express them (reasonably!) in your comments.

My background expresses my approach to life, and I’ve been a journalist, PR and marketing practitioner, diplomat, businessperson, writer, and general roust-about. I’ve lived in several states around the U.S. and, as of this writing, eight other countries. I don’t suffer tedium well.

If I had to describe myself, I tend toward being libertarian. The way I interpret that is that I am a fiscal and Constitutional conservative and a social radical.

I also write fiction, and I hope you’ll check out my fiction site, Stoned Cherry, too. That’s a whole other animal, and perhaps you’ll find both sites interesting and worth following.

I’ll do my best to keep this blog alive and active. I don’t promise a specific posting schedule, and some weeks I might post two or three times, other weeks more, or less. When I have something to say, I’ll say it. And just so you know, I often have something to say.

Welcome to FJY.US!