Category Archives: Listening

“Good morning, Mr. Phelps. Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it…”

Read. Listen. Think. Vote. That’s what I think every voter should do in every election. By now you probably think you’ve read, heard, and seen enough–and you may be right–but I have one small mission for you today.

Find someone who disagrees with you politically and listen to them. Give them a chance to tell you why they are voting the way they are. Ask good questions, not “gotcha” questions, but questions that peel away the layers. Don’t get confrontational, but try to really understand why they feel the way they do. Why do they feel that one party or the other represents their views, and why do they feel that that party’s standard bearer represents the party or the country as a whole? Don’t get agitated, don’t raise your voice. Listen and ask. Repeat as necessary until you understand.

What I have found when I have done this is that we are often in agreement on the problems but disagree on the solutions and who is the best person to implement them. Yeah, sometimes the other person is willfully ignorant and even cold, hard, scientific truths are beyond them, but most people are capable of intelligent and polite discussion, if given the opportunity.

I don’t expect them to change your mind or you to change theirs. My hope is that you both realize that underneath it all, we are really on the same side. We want what’s best for ourselves, our families, our neighborhoods, our states, our country, and our world. We may disagree on some of what that is, but I don’t think anyone running for office is intentionally evil. There’s plenty of selfishness and selfcenteredness among our politicians, and plenty of myopia when it comes to specific issues.

We shouldn’t be enemies now, and we shouldn’t stay enemies after the election. Our world has serious problems that need cooperation if we are going to solve them.

If you haven’t voted already, make sure you know where to go tomorrow, and do your research before you go to the polls. If you have voted, pop some popcorn and watch the show.


My best campaign donation.

My best campaign donation.


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Whose World Is It Anyway?

This morning I read an interesting article on OZY titled “Don’t Let Old People Vote!” I won’t go into great detail, but it did raise an interesting question for me: Whose world is it anyway?

One of my independent opponents, Rick Tyler, longs for a return to the way the U.S. was in the 1950s and 1960s, when white Christian Conservatives were in control. Tyler is extreme, certainly, but parts of his attitude are reflected in many older Americans. Opposition to gay marriage and equality, environmental protection, improved funding for education are all much greater among older Americans than younger, while older Americans are more likely to vote than younger Americans.

This is due at least in part due to the fact that voter registration isn’t automatic. The seventy-five-year-old who has lived in the same house for forty years hasn’t had to re-register, while the twenty-five-year-old recent college graduate likely had to re-register when moving from home to college, then when switching apartments, then when moving from college to the new job–possibly six or seven moves since turning eighteen. If the twenty-five-year-old is in Tennessee, that requires mailing in a new registration form for each move at least thirty days before an election, since there is no electronic voter registration. Thus, part of the reason for lower voter turnout among young Americans is systemic, rather than simply being voter apathy.

This is problematic, because older Americans are, effectively, voting to force younger Americans to live in the world they want, rather than in the world older Americans would like to return. Unfortunately, the world they want cannot return, because America is unlikely to return to a manufacturing economy, not due to moving jobs out of the country but due to increased automation–and that automation is only going to continue to allow workers to improve productivity, which will continue to decrease the number of workers needed. We need trade laws that protect intellectual property rights (although not to the extreme duration that the Trans-Pacific Partnership mandates), because these are areas where the U.S. still excels. Protecting the environment is also less important to older Americans, because they are unlikely to suffer the consequences. Their college wasn’t free, so why should it be for younger Americans–ignoring the fact that a college student in their day could pay for school, room, and board with a part-time job plus a full-time job in the summer? And, of course, many older Americans don’t think that racism and homophobia was really that bad–because LGBT people stayed closeted and minorities “knew their place.”

As anyone who has read more than one post on this blog knows, I’m not a normal politician. I don’t look forward to tomorrow, next week, or next year: I look ten, twenty, and fifty years into the future. I think we need to be planning an online voting infrastructure now, and it should be trivial for someone to change their address in the system. I think we need to continue to improve our environmental standards–but we need to make sure that while improving standards we don’t also increase the regulatory burden on American businesses. If we add a new reporting requirement, we need to remove an existing one. Civil rights protections need to cover any group subject to discrimination on any basis besides their ability to do a job–with appropriate accommodations, where needed–or to pay for the goods and services provided. I have said before that we need to move toward a single-payer health care system, both to allow U.S. manufacturers to compete on a level playing field internationally and to make part-time employment affordable for Americans and small businesses.


(from Pinterest. Original artist unknown.)

I have argued before that we need to consider raising the age for Social Security, but given current population trends, this may not be the best route. The world population growth rate is currently about half that of the 1960s–1.13% compared to 2.2%–and falling. Depending on the rate of improvement in automation, we may have to tweak the workforce by manipulating the retirement age upward or downward. If we find that we have too many workers, it may be useful to drop the retirement age to free up those slots. We may even get to the point where a universal basic income becomes viable and desirable, in the case of automation greatly reducing the need for labor. It isn’t something that we can afford today, and much more research needs to be done, but it is something that we should consider as an option later.

I don’t fear the future. I don’t think you should either–and you shouldn’t vote for anyone who does. We need to manage the world so that we don’t irreparably damage it while we are getting there, but the world can be an incredible place. We just need politicians who won’t sabotage us on our way there.

The election is in four days. Do your research, then get out and vote. Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Education, Environment, Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Health Care, Listening, Racism, Social Security, Technology

To Meme or not to Meme…

I like a good meme as much as anyone, but commenting on other people’s memes seems to get me into more trouble on social media than anything else.

I can’t help myself. I feel a need to comment when someone posts a meme that is obviously misleading, lying, or taking things out of context. I’ll give you three examples:

From the Democrats


The first sign that this is a bad meme is that it is quoting a fictional character from a television show. The real problem, though, is that the meme is terribly inaccurate. The meme names six bills that benefited Americans and claims that liberals supported all six and conservatives opposed all of them:

  1. Social Security
  2. The Civil Rights Act
  3. The Voting Rights Act
  4. Medicare
  5. The Clean Air Act
  6. The Clean Water Act

Had the meme stopped with Social Security and Medicare, it would have done just fine. The Civil Rights Act of 1964–the first one with teeth–was a bipartisan bill, with more Democratic opposition than Republican. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was jointly sponsored by the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and, like the Civil Rights Act, it had more opponents among Democrats than Republicans.

The environmental bills are much more problematic. The Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed unanimously by the Senate and had one no vote in the House. It gave teeth to the original Clean Air Act of 1963 and led to Richard Nixon establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Water Act of 1972 passed unanimously. It was vetoed by Nixon–because he was opposed to the pork in the bill: His budget request had already quadrupled funding for clean water, and the bill was passed over his veto. Environmental legislation used to be bipartisan, and it can be argued that the two best environmental presidents were Nixon, for founding the EPA, and Theodore Roosevelt, for pushing the Antiquities Act of 1906, which effectively started the National Park System.

On the other two items, there wasn’t as much disagreement as the meme would suggest. The Social Security Act of 1935 passed the House 372-33, and the Social Security Act of 1965, which established Medicare, did have significant Republican support, even though slightly more Republicans voted against it than for it. Neither of these bills passed with the standard party-line votes we most often see in today’s Congress.

Yes, the GOP usually opposes environmental, civil rights, and social welfare legislation today, but it wasn’t always that way, despite what this meme suggests.

From the Republicans


I have no argument with the claim that, by allowing classified materials to be sent on a private email server, Hillary Clinton broke the law. (Whether she should be jailed or not is another issue entirely. Historically, imprisonment on this is based on two things: Whether the material was leaked intentionally and the rank of the person who made the leak. It may not be right, but high-ranking government or military officials who inadvertently leak classified information are rarely punished with more than a slap on the wrist.)

The law quoted in the meme, however, has absolutely nothing to do with this case. Clinton had the emails destroyed after the State Department requested all emails relating to State Department business. The law quoted in the meme has to do with documents held by courts, judicial officers, or public officers. The deleted emails were never held or requested by the courts, as the FBI declined to recommend charging Secretary Clinton with a crime.

There are other laws that Clinton broke or may have broke that would have been appropriate for a meme. In my opinion, when you post inaccurate or misleading information in a meme to show your opposition to a candidate, you hurt your case. It would have been so easy to create an accurate version of this meme that properly made their case.

From the Greens


This is a picture of the Packard Plant in Detroit. Yes, this factory made Packards and Studebakers, and was closed in 1958. NAFTA came into force in January, 1994.

Was it Marty McFly, Doctor Who, or Bill and Ted who went back in time to make sure that NAFTA caused the demise of Packard thirty-seven years earlier?

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of NAFTA, and it would not have been difficult to find an image of a closed factory that could be partially blamed on NAFTA. This picture looked better, so the meme author used it to misinform voters.

It is five days until Election Day and the last day of early voting here in Chattanooga. Keep reading and thinking and questioning, and make an informed decision–if you haven’t already.

Thanks again for your support. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, let me know.

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Filed under Listening, Technology, The Media

Preparing For Life After November 8

It is nineteen days until the election. I am confident that most of you are like me and cannot wait for it to be over. I am almost overwhelmed by the anger, shouting, name-calling, antagonizing, and just plain nastiness.

Because my standard operating mode is that of problem solver, I started thinking about this question:

What can we do after the election to bring the country back together?

Michelle Obama hugs George W. Bush

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

I have a few ideas. Let me know what you think.

1. Take down your signs and remove your stickers soon after the election is over.

I know, I know: You want people to know either that you were on the winning side or that you voted against the winner, but part of what you are doing is continuing the division that has become so acrimonious.

Instead, take down the signs, peel off the stickers, and put away your buttons so you can sell them on eBay in twenty years.

2. Listen to the other side and ask questions calmly.

(It wouldn’t hurt to do this now.)

I know, you don’t get it. After all of the evil things that [TRUMP/CLINTON] has done, how could anyone have voted for [CLINTON/TRUMP]? Well, it turns out that there are many reasons for people to vote the way they did. You may not think that they were good reasons, but that’s not as important as the fact that your friend did think that they were good reasons.

In my case, my problem with most voters falls into one of three categories:

  1. They voted for the candidate from their party, very often because that was the party their parents supported.
  2. They voted based on the press coverage from their favorite news source (and yes, it is almost always one source).
  3. They voted because they agreed with the candidate on one or two key issues.

So, when I am discussing politics with someone who disagrees with me on a candidate, my first mission is to figure out which of the three categories they fit. If I learn that they are strictly a party loyalist, I start by talking about which of the party’s policies I like–and yes, every rational person should be able to find something likable in each party’s platform–to show them that I’m not completely against them. Once I get past that, I move on to some issues where I have minor disagreements and see if I can persuade them that my position isn’t unreasonable. (I don’t try to convince them I’m right, just that I’m not irrational.) If I can find positions where they disagree with their chosen party, then I might point out that the other side or a third party more closely reflects their views on that. The important thing here is to move from red vs. blue to pink vs. periwinkle.

If the problem is that they are single sourcing, I may find an example where an article has an obvious bias. For example, a Breitbart article today had a misleading headline that greatly exaggerated the number of late-term abortions. The data in the article itself wasn’t inaccurate, but calling 21-week fetuses “fully developed” is a gross misrepresentation that panders to pro-life readers. Now, Breitbart is particularly bad at this sort of thing, but there are sources on the left that do the same sort of thing. My approach with these cases is to point out the flaws in the article, while suggesting another article on the same topic from a less biased source. Unfortunately, much of the time people didn’t even read the article they posted, so they certainly aren’t going to read the article I suggested in reply, so I also try to succinctly paraphrase. Sometimes I even break through.

The way I approach single-issue voters is to try to show them that their single issue is never just that issue. My brain is weird in that I seek connections between issues. The textbook example here is the famous Freakonomics link between legalizing abortion and declines in violent crime. In my experience, there are very few truly independent issues, and those issues are rarely the ones that inspire major disagreements. I approach single-issue voters in a similar manner to party line voters: I point out the unintended consequences of their positions, not to persuade them to change their mind, but perhaps to change the rigor of their stance. Maybe I can convince the person who wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. that this is a bad idea because it might cause majority Muslim countries to ban Americans or American products.

But the important thing is to listen and discuss, politely and with understanding. There are some people with whom I disagree on many issues, many of whom I respect deeply, because our disagreement comes from a difference in core beliefs rather than a lack of understanding of the issues. For example, I am pretty cynical when it comes to thinking that people, in general, act more often out of selfishness than altruism, but I respect people who have a more positive view of humanity and make decisions accordingly.

3. Expand your circle of friends.

I’m pretty weird in that my circle of friends is pretty ridiculously diverse. I have friends who are millionaires, and I have friends who are on public assistance. I have friends of about a dozen religions and no religion. The ethnic diversity of my friends rivals the United Nations. I have friends in New York and Los Angeles, friends in Iowa, Nebraska, and Alaska, and friends in Australia, Norway, Israel, and India.

Locally, I’m a liberal. Nationally, I’m a moderate. Globally, I’m a conservative.

I remember reading a quote from a New York columnist who couldn’t comprehend how George W. Bush won the 2000 election, because she didn’t know a single person who voted for him. Likewise, I have some rural friends who can’t understand how Obama won, since everyone they know voted for McCain and Romney. In contrast, I have friends who are passionate about Trump, Clinton, Johnson, and Stein–and I understand why all of them are voting the way they are voting. It’s probably a big part of the reason why I don’t particularly care for any of the candidates, because I have repeatedly heard about the evils of all of them.

More importantly, it also shows that I don’t pick my friends because of their political choices, and that I believe that deep down we really all want the same big picture goal: For all people to have a decent quality of life and the potential to succeed. We may disagree on what those things mean, but that’s less important than the underlying good we all seek.

Please try to understand that people who disagree with you aren’t disagreeing because they are evil, or because they are stupid, or because they are selfish. More likely, they disagree because they have different ideas of what a good, successful America means and what are the best ways to get there. So after the election, find common ground, make new friends, and move forward together. It will be easier if you don’t call them names today.

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Filed under Listening, Stuff About Me

Tea Parties and Muslims

Last night I went to a candidate forum hosted by the Roane County Tea Party. Also attending were Allan Levene, Michael Friedman, George Ryan Love, and Rick Tyler.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the audience seemed to relate best to Tyler’s message.

I did spar with Tyler a bit–his comeback when I brought up the Jefferson Bible and told him to look it up was “You look it up!”–and had some good discussions with the audience, particularly on gun control. I’m not so naïve as to think that any minds were changed. I’m not even sure anything I said actually caused anyone to actually think.

One audience member asked the candidates how many enumerated powers were in the Constitution. None of us knew, but neither did the questioner. She claimed the answer was eighteen, which is, in fact, the number of enumerated powers listed in Article I, Section 8. However, amendments have given Congress additional enumerated powers, such as

  • The power to free slaves (Amendment XIII)
  • The power to make sure all citizens have due process under the law (Amendment XIV)
  • The power to enforce the validity of the public debt (Amendment XIV)
  • The power to enforce the right to vote on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (Amendment XV)
  • The power to collect income taxes (Amendment XVI)
  • The power to enforce the right of women to vote (Amendment XIX)
  • The power to ban poll taxes (Amendment XXIV)
  • The power to enforce the right to vote on the basis of being eighteen years of age (Amendment XXVI)

So that brings us to at least twenty-six, although I’m quite certain many Tea Party members would be fine with dumping a few of those created by amendments.

The biggest applause for the night came when one audience member suggested that all Muslims should be deported–going even beyond Trump’s desire to keep Muslims from entering the U.S. This is problematic on so many different levels. First, in deference to Mr. Tyler, I’ll go back to “What Would The Founding Fathers Do?” That’s pretty simple: The first country to recognize the United States, in 1777, was Morocco, a Muslim nation. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1876, is the longest unbroken treaty in the U.S., and it was signed by Thomas Barclay, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and King Mohammed III. Muslims are, quite literally, the oldest friends of the United States.

Letter from George Washington to Mohammed III: "Great and magnanimous friend"

Letter from George Washington to Mohammed III: “Great and magnanimous friend”

Second, the human brain has a desire to simplify things. People want to believe that the Muslim world is a monolith standing against Christianity and Western civilization, but that is just not so. First, just as Christianity is fragmented into Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, and many others, Islam is split into Shi’a, Sunni, Sufi, Khawarij, Baha’i, and others. Much of the conflict with ISIS is between Salafism (a Sunni sect) and almost all other sects of Islam. The vast majority of ground troops fighting ISIS are Muslim, whether Sunni Kurds, the Free Syrian Army, and the Iraqi Ground Forces. Almost everyone leaving Syria is running because of ISIS: they are Muslims who hate ISIS more than any American.

Finally, many Americans fear Sharia. Well, guess what: So do many Muslims. One does not have to support Sharia to be a Muslim. It is not one of the Five Pillars of Islam. But even in most countries with Sharia, it is usually only applied to family law: things like marriage, divorce, and inheritance. It is only in a few countries, like Saudi Arabia, where it is also applied to the criminal justice system. Frankly, given the severity of criminal punishments under Sharia, I am surprised more Tea Party members haven’t embraced it.

Listen – especially to those who disagree with you. (I met with a Tea Party, knowing they would disagree with me on many issues.)

Read – especially from sources that challenge your ideals. (I read the blogs and websites of all of my opponents.)

Think – for yourself. Don’t let other people tell you what you should believe (Even me!). No one represents you unless you choose them to represent you.

Then Vote.

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Filed under Listening, Religion, Tea Party, Tennessee 3rd District

If you hate…

If you hate someone because they support a different candidate, don’t.

If you hate someone because they belong to a different religion, don’t.

If you hate someone because they cheer for your team’s rivals, don’t.

If you hate someone because they were born in a different country, don’t.

If you hate someone because they don’t speak your language fluently, don’t.

If you hate someone because they said Kanye West is Kim Kardashian’s big fat ass, don’t.

If you hate someone because they are friends with someone you dislike, don’t.

If you hate someone because they said something stupid, don’t.

If you hate someone because they are rich, don’t.

If you hate someone because they went to a different school, don’t.

If you hate someone because you love them, don’t.

If you hate someone because you disagree on whether something should be legal, don’t.

If you hate someone because they belong to a different political party, don’t.

If you hate someone because they can’t stand your favorite television show, don’t.

If you hate someone because they put ketchup on their hot dog, don’t.

If you hate someone because they are Team Cap and you are Team Stark, don’t.

If you hate someone because they are gay, don’t.

If you hate someone because they think Metallica is death metal, don’t.

If you hate someone because they don’t treat others with respect, don’t.

If you hate someone because they like cats better than dogs, don’t.

If you hate someone because they think your hobby is childish, don’t.

If you hate someone because they are incompetent, don’t.

If you hate someone because they think they are better than you, don’t.

If you hate someone because they think aliens are among us, don’t.

If you hate someone because they are racist, don’t.

If you hate someone because they like Androids and you have an iPhone, don’t.

If you hate someone because they are on government assistance, don’t.

If you hate someone because they belong to a group you oppose, don’t.

If you hate someone because they look weird, don’t.

If you hate someone because they see the world differently from you, don’t.

If you hate someone because they think Taco Bell is Mexican food, don’t.

If you hate someone because they hurt you, don’t.

If you hate someone, don’t.

Just don’t.

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Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

Last night I attended a Meet the Candidates event sponsored by the Springtown Community Support Group at their volunteer fire house in Polk County. After a wardrobe malfunction caused me to ditch my shirt and tie for a polo shirt–but it was an orange polo, which might as well be formal wear in East Tennessee–I made the hour-plus drive to Springtown. Once I arrived, Bill Russell, the organizer of the event, greeted me, explained the rules (five minute intro, five minutes of questions, then mingle), and directed me to my seat.

Springtown Fire Station

Springtown Fire Station (Google StreetView Image)

Four other candidates attended:

  • Mike Friedman – Democrat
  • Melody Shekari – Democrat
  • Geoff Smith – Republican
  • Rick Tyler – Independent

I have spoken briefly about the other candidates here before, but I didn’t speak about Rick Tyler. His website is here. A picture is worth a thousand words, so…

RickTyler Intro Graphic

Needless to say, despite Tyler running as an Independent, he’s on the right end of the political spectrum. So, at this event, Friedman and Shekari are running to the left of me, Smith and Tyler to the right. I guess I’m stuck in the middle with you. Despite the title of this post, none of my competitors are clowns or jokers. We all want what is best for the 3rd District: We just don’t agree on what is best and how to get there–except that getting Fleischmann out would help. Smith and Shekari each came with an assistant, but Friedman, Tyler, and I were flying solo.

I didn’t do great, but I didn’t do badly. I botched my answer to one question. In my introduction, I commented on how wasteful it was that Fleischmann had voted forty-plus times to defund Obamacare, knowing all along that this was a waste of time, since even if any of these got past the Senate–they didn’t–Obama would surely veto, and there was no chance of an override. The questioner asked if there were any issues where I would try, even knowing there was no chance of success. I stupidly answered that I would fight to get veterans’ benefits properly funded, because people have been trying for a few decades to fix the VA fixed, but that was a horrible answer.

If I were in Congress, I wouldn’t fight for an issue that had no chance of success. I don’t have the right to waste the taxpayers’ money on hopeless causes. Now, I might fight for structural or systemic changes to move these issues into the realm of possibility; for example, by supporting candidates who would support these proposals. It’s important to choose your battles and when to fight them. The government is large enough and complex enough that there is always something worth fighting for that is a solvable problem.

I enjoyed speaking with the people, but I was definitely to the left of them. Most rural counties tend toward conservatism, and Polk County is no different. They have legitimate concerns. One questioner complained about the lack of high-speed internet access in the county. Another resident complained about Forest Service trucks destroying the roads and the county not having the funds to fix them. A school board member spoke with me about extremely tight budgets forcing cutting of music programs. There was quite a bit of the standard Southern anti-federal sentiment, with a solid consensus that the federal government does too much and spends way too much. The evils of the Federal Reserve Bank were brought up more than once. There’s a ton of concern about illegal immigration, but I am not sure what to think of that. Polk County is 98.5% white (U.S. Census data), with only about 1.6% Hispanic. It doesn’t strike me that illegal immigrants are a huge problem there, but I could be wrong.

I did learn that I need to figure out how to better deliver my message. There were a couple of times when I thought members of the audience had a system crash when I tried to explain how one issue was linked to another, because they aren’t used to seeing those connexions (yeah, it’s a quirky–but legitimate–alternative spelling). There was some interesting emotional shifts in conversations, like when I agreed that we needed to control the federal debt, but that the way I would do it is to remove loopholes and raise taxes on the rich and on large corporations, because I think we have already cut most discretionary spending to extremes.

I got a chance to speak with Smith, Tyler, and Friedman, and I will post more about their candidacies in the next week or so. I regret that I didn’t get a chance to speak with Shekari. The Springtown Community Support Group did a great job with this event, and I hope they continue doing this sort of thing.

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Filed under Listening, Tennessee 3rd District