Category Archives: Ethics

I Needed A Break

After several months of intensely watching and commenting on politics, I needed a break. I am still really happy that 2,489 people thought that voting for me wasn’t a waste, but screaming from the rooftops that voting for Trump was a mistake didn’t make much of a difference. Back in March I commented that we were already living in a corporate dystopia, and I commented a few times on social media that we were approaching a nexus where we had to choose between Neuromancer and Star Trek.

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

Trump’s cabinet selections have given an additional meaning to the Republican Three G’s of “God, Guns, and Gays” with “Goldman, Generals, and Gazillionaires,” as Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill called them. I was worried that Hillary Clinton was in too tightly with Goldman Sachs, but Trump has selected Goldman veterans Steven Mnuchin for Treasury, Gary Cohn for the White House National Economic Council, and Steve Bannon as Senior White House Adviser. Add to this the list of Trump’s billionaire friends

  • Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education,
  • ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as the leading Secretary of State Candidate,
  • Andy Puzder of Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s as Secretary of Labor, and
  • vulture capitalist Wilbur Ross as Secretary of Commerce,

and we have the makings of a very strong corporatist executive branch. I can’t find anyone in the proposed cabinet who seems to have even the smallest concern for the economic issues facing low-income and middle class Americans.

I expect Trump’s government to be focused on the next quarter instead of the next quarter-century. I expect that they will get some significant short-term gains, while sacrificing long-term American interests. Given what I have read so far, I expect Trump to be the worst environmental president–even if he is saying he is open-minded on climate change–because I expect he will work to eliminate many environmental regulations without making sure that the environmental protections remain. (I agree that we need to streamline the regulatory and reporting requirements that often delay projects for a decade or more, but we can improve efficiency without sacrificing effectiveness.) Betsy DeVos will likely gut public school funding in favor of vouchers and semi-private charter schools, which will result in sacrificing a generation of students, likely crippling American innovation. Ben Carson’s disdain for the poor doesn’t mesh well with the Housing and Urban Development mission “to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.”

As you can tell, I’m not terribly optimistic about the next four years. I’ve had various plans streaming through my overactive brain:

  1. Watch the world burn.
  2. Move to Canada, because
    • Being farther north means we will be better able to handle climate change, and
    • Current policies seem to strike a balance between economic, social, and environmental concerns.
  3. Prepare my daughter to lead the rebellion.
  4. Work to form a shadow government, where concerned citizens work together to do what the government will not.
  5. Convince myself that there’s a way to successfully fight the kakocracy.

I don’t know which of these makes the most sense. I like the idea of a shadow government, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the person to lead it. I’ve been teaching Zari along my basic philosophy of “Expect the best, but prepare for the worst” since birth, so #3 is already well underway. I have been very unsuccessful at #5, and I don’t particularly enjoy #1. Moving to Canada is interesting, but I don’t enjoy winter that much, and I don’t really like the idea of abandoning the U.S. when it needs voices like mine more than ever.

So, if you were reading this today hoping that I had a plan, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Trump’s transition website does finally have a place to submit “stories,” but I am enough of a cynic to think that these aren’t really being read, but rather data-mined for things they can use. I don’t know what I can do today to make a difference. I’m a summer person, so winter always makes me a bit more negative than usual, but I’m having a really difficult time seeing the bright side to anything happening politically right now. I am thrilled that Colombia and FARC finally have a peace deal, ending a fifty-year civil war, but most of the rest of the news just saddens me.

At least Rogue One comes out Thursday.

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Captain America: Civil War – Why I’m Team Stark

Team Stark

Team Stark

Last Friday I took my daughter to see Captain America: Civil War. Most people I know seem to be Team Cap. I’m not. Here’s why….

The plot of Civil War–and I don’t consider this a spoiler–revolves around the UN’s desire to control the Avengers. The justification is that their actions, like fighting off the alien invasion in the first Avengers movie, often result in a ton of collateral damage. The Avengers split, because Captain America doesn’t want to put The Avengers under international control, while Tony Stark (Iron Man) believes that this is a responsible course of action.

I had an argument a few years ago over the effectiveness of torture. My argument against the use of torture hinged on one key point: There was no evidence that any of the information gained by torturing inmates at Guantanamo Bay saved a single life. One thing about me though: I am a relentless researcher. I wanted to see if I could find any documented cases of torture saving a life. I found one: A thief stole a car in Australia in the summer. The car had a sleeping toddler in the back seat. Thief discovers baby, abandons car, gets caught by police. Thief won’t reveal the location of the car until he’s severely beaten. Toddler is saved with no long-term ill effects.

In this case, assaulting the thief was clearly illegal, but that didn’t matter to the police, because saving the toddler was more important than obeying the law. Had the police been charged–they weren’t, because their report claimed the thief volunteered the information and the thief decided it was in his self-interest to go along with that story–I doubt that they would have been convicted, and even if they were, I would expect that the sentence would be a small price to pay for saving a child’s life.

And that’s really the situation here. Captain America is an absolutist. He thinks that if the UN has to authorize Avengers missions that The Avengers cannot act without UN approval. Tony Stark, however, is a pragmatist. He understands that there are three types of situations:

  1. Interventions that will be approved by the UN.
  2. Interventions that won’t be approved by the UN, but are not cataclysmic.
  3. Interventions that won’t be approved by the UN, but are cataclysmic.

The Avengers would act in 1. and 3. In 3., The Avengers would be willing to accept the consequences for their actions because whatever punishment the UN could manage would be less important than saving the world. Saving the world does tend to make punishments more lenient. Tony Stark understands that it is often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Too many people today are absolutists like Captain America. Hillary Clinton has a 100% rating from NARAL, which would place her at the extreme pro-choice end of the abortion spectrum. Too many Republicans who expressed concerns about Donald Trump have declared their support for him, because they always support their party. There are gun activists who believe any American should be able to own a gun, including people with mental illness and convicted felons. There are people who believe in total communism, redistributing all resources equally among the population. And, of course, there are religious extremists of all shades who believe that anyone who doesn’t follow their belief system is evil.

I’m not sure there are any issues where I am an absolutist. I feel that in almost everything there’s a central position that will give most people about eighty percent of what they want, where the absolute positions give one extreme 100%, the other 0%, and a roughly linear scale down the middle. Most extremists see the world as a series of zero-sum games. I see the world as very often being a series of win-win situations. I never expect to get everything I want, but if I can get most of what I want, I’m pretty happy.

Listen, learn, and compromise.

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Enemy or Competitor?

enemy

  1. one that is antagonistic to another; especially:  one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent

  2. something harmful or deadly <alcohol was his greatest enemy>

  3. a:  a military adversary   b:  a hostile unit or force

competitor

  1. :  one that competes: as

    a:rival

    b:  one selling or buying goods or services in the same market as another

    c:  an organism that lives in competition with another

Too often, people and the media exaggerate conflict, presenting a friendly conflict as a war, turning competitors into enemies. They want us to believe that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are enemies, that Coke and Pepsi want to destroy each other, and that Walt Disney World and Universal Studios should want the other to fail. The reality is that Brady and Manning pushed each other to become better players. The rivalry between Coke and Pepsi has forced each to create new products, innovate marketing and packaging, and compete for sponsorships. The Disney/Universal rivalry results in a better experience because their competition forces the building of new attractions and a constant focus on improving customer service. There may be some trash talk between people in these organizations, but no one actually wants harm to come to their opponents.

I am competing with Chuck Fleischmann for his Congressional seat. I hope that my campaign, at the least, causes him to think about the issues and, assuming he wins, becomes a better Representative. I don’t want to destroy him. I don’t want the destruction of the Republican and Democratic parties, but I would like them to be more responsive to the needs of the country. I want to compete with Fleischmann and, hopefully, the parties, to force everyone, including myself, to do better.

Too many people are treating competitors as enemies. Republicans talk about Obama like he is the Antichrist, while Democrats talk about Republicans only being interested in the rich and big business. Liberals regularly compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, while Trump incites his supporters to violently remove protesters. Christian and Muslim rhetoric is often terribly violent. Too many people are really angry–often, unfortunately, including myself–but that’s the wrong emotion, I think.

I have a friend who is very well-educated but with whom I disagree very often. We can look at the exact same facts and come to diametrically opposed conclusions. This isn’t because we don’t understand the facts–in fact, I’m quite confident that he understands the facts at least as well as I do–but rather, we have completely different world views. Our differences come from how the new data fits into our existing paradigms. We have some very spirited discussions, but I’ve never felt like he’s my enemy. He’s a friendly competitor, and our debates have led both of us, I think, to refine our positions and to develop deeper understandings. Sometimes we even find common ground.

I had a professor who once told me that there is nothing more motivating than a competent enemy. While true, it isn’t something I want. I’d much rather be motivated by a competent competitor. After the debate, we go out to the pub and throw down a couple of beers, not out into the alley to throw a few punches.

A little respect goes a long way.

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My Rules

Over the past couple of years I’ve come up with some rules for how I want to live my life. If you want to know what kind of person I am, take a look at these:

Topher’s Rules

1. Don’t get caught.

This one often gets misunderstood. By “don’t get caught” I don’t mean that you should go around breaking laws and rules if you can get away with it. What I mean is that breaking the letter of the law but obeying the spirit of the law is acceptable, if you can get away with it. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are likely to get into trouble.

For example, I speed pretty much any time I can. What I don’t do is speed when it is unsafe to do so, such as when it is raining or in heavy traffic. The purpose of speed limits is to get people to drive safely (not revenue generation!). If the road is dry and wide open, then driving 75 in a 70 isn’t unreasonable, because it isn’t unsafe. 

One of the lunchtime rules at my daughter’s school is that they aren’t allowed to share food, ostensibly to minimize the possibility of triggering food allergies, but by now third grade students know if they are allergic to something. On the rare occasions when I pack her a lunch, I always send her with too much of something, just so she has something to give away or trade. Part of the fun of life is getting things you don’t normally get, so having her break the rules to share an experience is something I encourage. (Normal Park teachers and staff: If you’re reading this, she is exceptional at not getting caught.  )

2. If you get caught, admit everything.

Too many people try to keep covering things up once they’ve been caught. The overwhelming majority of the time, if they’ve caught you on one thing, the odds are pretty good they are going to catch you on the rest of it. Come clean immediately, apologize, and move on.

3. Solving the problem is more important than blaming someone.

Too many people are more concerned with witch hunts than with finding solutions. Someone screwed up and now we have to fix it. Get on with it. The main reasons to find who to blame is either to punish them–which is rarely productive–or to make sure they don’t repeat the mistake. The latter is useful, but usually doesn’t take very long and it shouldn’t be the focus.

3a. Take responsibility, even if it isn’t your fault, if it gets the problem solved faster.

I worked for a company where upper management often looked for scapegoats. I managed a few people in a highly visible area of the organization. If someone in my department made a mistake, everyone knew about it. The only way I could maintain morale and keep my people working effectively was to be a barrier between them and upper management, so any time upper management discovered a problem, I took the blame. Sometimes it was completely obvious that I couldn’t have possibly directly caused the problem, but that wasn’t the point. I was the manager, so, ultimately, any mistake in my department was my mistake, from a certain point of view.

4. Back your friend’s play, once it is made, even if you disagree with it.

Loyalty is a difficult concept for many people, and it’s almost entirely lost in American business and American politics. The only thing that buys loyalty is loyalty, and there are few things more important to me than to be loyal to my friends. So if a friend makes a mistake, even a really stupid one, I’ll still support them, often publicly. In private, I may rather bluntly ask them “WTF?” in an attempt to keep things from getting worse, but in public I back their play.

5. Life isn’t fair, but try to be fair.

Life isn’t fair. I grew up in a lower middle class family in rural Wisconsin. My standard of living was orders of magnitude lower than Donald Trump’s kids, but it was also orders of magnitude better than a kid growing up in drought-stricken Ethiopia.

Most of American history is people striving for the American Dream: Work hard and you can make a good life for yourself and your family. Unfortunately, that’s becoming less possible today because we don’t have fairness. There isn’t equality of opportunity. Some public schools are great, but some really suck. Some neighborhoods are safe, some are dangerous. People and governments cannot make life fair, but we can help give people a chance to make better lives for themselves.

6. Don’t talk down to people. Especially kids.

This took me a really long time to figure out. I read constantly, so I have a fairly large vocabulary. Conversational word selection was a skill I just didn’t have. (I still have a problem with being too direct, and people thinking I’m giving an order instead of making a request.) More times than I care to recall I talked to someone like they were stupid. At best, this aggravates them, at worst, they stop listening completely.

Most adults talk down to children. They assume that because they aren’t as old and don’t have a full vocabulary that everything needs to be dumbed down. Kids are smarter than most people think. They can figure out most meanings from tone, and when they can’t, they can ask questions and learn something. If you don’t treat kids–and adults–with respect, they won’t act like they deserve respect.

Selfie with beard

I let Zari make some decisions. She’s decided the beard stays until spring.

7. Never complain about a rainy Monday.

If I were all-powerful, it would rain every Monday after a sunny and warm weekend. If you’re going to be stuck at work anyway, it might as well rain.

8. Talk to strangers.

Stranger danger may be the most exaggerated “threat” in America. The overwhelming majority of crimes against children are committed by someone known to the child or the child’s family. When a stranger does something to a child, it makes national news precisely because it is so rare.

I used to be an introvert who actively avoided talking to anyone. That’s boring. Now I talk to the people in line with me at the store, or the guy pumping gas at the next pump. When I take my daughter to the park, her standing order is to “Go talk to strangers.” One day last May I took her to Coolidge Park here in Chattanooga. The place was very crowded, with probably over a hundred kids playing in the fountains. Probably a third of the group were seniors from a local high school who happened to be predominantly African-American. These kids were having a water fight, so my daughter jumped into the middle of it, helping one faction fill their water containers and making the occasional sneak attack. A few times she ended up quite a distance from me and, unfortunately, other busy-bodies parents were worried for her on my behalf and tried to keep my daughter from having fun. They had worst-first thinking, assuming that the older kids would do something to hurt my daughter, when the reality was the exact opposite. They were treating her like a little sister, getting her involved and being extremely nice (one girl even gave her a necklace).

I could have had my daughter play by herself in the fountains that day, or I could let her have fun.

9. Spend money on experiences instead of stuff. (No one can steal your experiences.)

I’ve had four break-ins in the past three years. I’ve lived through earthquakes, hurricanes, a house fire, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, two divorces and the break-up of a long-term relationship, and the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. I’ve lost more property than many people will ever own. It bothered me for a long time, but it doesn’t now. Now if I get extra money, I spend it doing something different–my current “kick” is taking my daughter around the country to as many National Parks as possible. I take pictures and upload them to three different cloud drives, so I can’t lose them, but even if I did, I still have my memories, and that’s enough.

10. Most individuals are nice. Most groups aren’t.

I won’t go as far as Will Rogers, because I have met men I didn’t like, but I get along with almost everyone, regardless of our differences. The few people I do have problems with tend to be those who are extremely selfish, those who are willing to harm others to get ahead.

Groups, however, are very often ugly. Most groups exist to promote their own interests at the expense of others. AARP wants to improve the lives of seniors at the expense of young people. Political parties selfishly promote the causes of their members. Too often trade groups collude to informally inflate the prices of their goods and services.

It’s why I’m running as an independent. I don’t want to fall into the trap of supporting things just because they are in the best interests of my group. Everything in politics has a trade-off, but I want to work toward the greatest good for the greatest number.

11. People like people who are like them, so if you want someone to like you, exaggerate your similarities and understate your differences.

People are naturally more comfortable with people who look like them, talk like them, and act like them. People self-segregate; for example, just about every major city has a Chinatown. People are nicer to those who attend the same church as themselves, went to the same school they did, or listen to the same music.

This fact of life means that I’ve had to work to build relationships, because I don’t talk like I’m from Chattanooga: I have lived here thirteen years, but I still have my muddled accent from my years in Missouri, Wisconsin, and California. I don’t dress like most people: I am most comfortable in a T-shirt, cargo shorts (even in winter), and tennis shoes. Most of my social activities aren’t mainstream: My best friends come to my home for game night every Monday, I don’t go to bars, and I don’t attend church. I’m more likely to be walking about town with my daughter. So when I meet someone, I try to find the common bond. What makes them tick that I can relate to? Is he a Tennessee fan? My sister-in-law used to work in the athletic department there. Do they like going to Disney World? I used to live in Orlando, I can give some tips and tricks.

The only way I am going to succeed in this campaign and in Washington is by finding common ground. I’ve been doing that all my life.

12. If you are building a team, find people who are different from you and from each other.

Because of #11, most people build teams of people who are like them. My first ex-wife did a group project where each group ran a mock commuter airline. The organizational chart was President and three marketing executives.

From years of running role-playing games for my friends, I know that the most effective group is a diverse group. You don’t steal the dragon’s horde with a group of all fighters: You need the fighters, but you also need a healer, a wizard, a trap expert, and someone who can talk their way into or out of any situation.

If I get elected, I will assemble a diverse staff, because I’ll need a varied set of skills and experiences to succeed. I’m not sure there’s anyone else like me, but I don’t want to work with me. I want to work with people who have different ways of looking at the world, and I won’t get that by hiring a bunch of middle-aged white guys.

13. Shut up and listen.

“It is worth repeating at this point the theories that Ford had come up with, on his first encounter with human beings, to account for their peculiar habit of continually stating and restating the very very obvious, as in “It’s a nice day,” or “You’re very tall,” or “So this is it, we’re going to die.”

His first theory was that if human beings didn’t keep exercising their lips, their mouths probably shriveled up.

After a few months of observation he had come up with a second theory, which was this–“If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, their brains start working.”

Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

14. If you look for a fight, you’ll find it.

This is probably my main motive for running for office. The Republicans and Democrats are looking to fight. The tone in our country is so confrontational that it sickens me. I hope that, perhaps, I can be the man in the middle, the voice of reason, who can get both sides to work together. Even if they can’t agree on some major issues, on other issues there is certainly common ground.


Every few months I come up with something new. I know some, if not most, of you will disagree with some of these, but they work for me. Hopefully they give you a better idea of what kind of person I am, or at least what kind of person I hope to be.

Thanks for reading!

Topher

 

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My Campaign Ethics

Last week, young Mr. Wamp criticized Rep. Fleischmann for accepting out-of-state PAC money. I thought this was a bit rich coming from someone who is getting most of his money from his father’s contacts, but it does give me the opportunity to spell out what I will and will not do in this campaign.

Donations

I will accept any and all donations from individuals, corporations, PACs, clubs, non-profit organizations, or any other entity, provided that the donation is legal and that I don’t find the individual or organization personally offensive (for example, I would not accept money from the Ku Klux Klan). Mr. Wamp may have the luxury of being able to pick and choose his donors, but I am not so fortunate. Having said that, I wish to make it absolutely clear that my vote is not for sale. I may become more accessible to donors, but I won’t vote for something that is contrary to the best interests of the 3rd District or the United States of America.

Negative Advertising

I promise to attack my opponents on the issues and on their character, in ways that they may see as negative. I will do my best to not mislead the public and to tell the truth to the best of my ability, but yes, I fully intend to use negative advertising against my opponents.

Nepotism

If elected, I will hire some friends and relatives to work in my office. I am concerned that if I fill my office with too many people who did not know me before I became a candidate, these people will be unwilling or unable to tell me when they think I am making a mistake. My friends and family have demonstrated time and time again that they are willing to fill this role.

My Independence

I will not join a political party. Period. If you don’t ask, I won’t have to say no–or worse.

Mistakes

I will make mistakes. I promise to admit it when I do. Please note that what some may view as a mistake may only be a difference of opinion. If I say that the moon is made of green cheese and you show me that NASA collected moon rocks, I’ll admit my error. If I say that large corporations and the federal government are in a symbiotic relationship and you play me a quote from Glenn Beck saying that I’m wrong, I’m sticking to my guns.

Communication

If you send me a form letter complaint, I’ll answer with a form letter response. If you write an original letter or email on an issue, I will address it as best I can, personally whenever possible. If I don’t answer your question–and I have yet to have a question to a politician answered in a clear and concise matter–I expect and demand that you call me out on it.

Order of Importance

I will propose and vote on legislation using the following criteria, in this order:

  1. Is it constitutional?
  2. Is it in the best interests of the people of the 3rd District?
  3. Is it in the best interests of Tennessee?
  4. Is it in the best interests of the United States?
  5. Is it in the best interests of the world?
  6. Is it in the best interests of my donors?
  7. Is it in my personal best interest?

When I am not sure which way I should vote, based on the above, I will ask for input from my constituents. When I picked up my papers from the Hamilton County Election Commission, I met Republican candidate Ron Bhalla. Bhalla says that he is going to try to get his constituents’ opinions on every vote, and I admire him for this. I may even vote for him in the Republican primary. I am not sure that this is practical, but I will do my best to implement a way in which I can quickly take the pulse of the 3rd District on key issues. I am not willing to go as far as he is though, since there may be cases where what I know–not what I think, but what I know–is best for the people of the 3rd District is not what they think is best for themselves. I call it the “Cheers Syndrome.” The television show Cheers was great right up until the point when the producers allowed Sam and Diane to hook up, then it was only OK until they broke up, when it became great again–at least until they allowed Sam and Rebecca to get together. The audience thought they wanted the relationships, until they actually got them.

Documentation

I will give my rationale for every vote, excluding mundane procedural matters, on my House website within a day of the vote. I will not vote for any bill if I or members of my staff have not had the opportunity to read it in its entirety.

 

If you have any questions or concerns about how I plan to run things, please let me know and I’ll address them as quickly as I can. Thanks for reading.

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