Monday’s Mtg: Climate Change – How did the truth lose? Now what?

Rolling back every, single effort to combat climate change has been a top priority of the Republican Party for 20 years. President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, cancelled Obama’s higher car and truck fuel efficiency standards, reversed his smokestack pollution rules, and even ordered the government to stop producing certain types of climate data. No other conservative political party in the world denies that the planet is warming due to human activity.

The Democrats at least believe in the science. But, only recently has taking bold action to prevent wat they all “climate catastrophe” started to become a real priority for the Democrats, and the jury is still out on that.

Why? One big reason is a vast, lavishly-funded campaign of propaganda aimed at convincing the Right that climate change is some kind of left-wing hoax and that the real motives of progressives is to destroy capitalism. Not an exaggeration. Many conservatives believe fighting global warming is mainly an excuse to impose socialism on America. Similar propaganda has also convinced many conservatives that a warming planet is not our problem since China is now the biggest emitter of carbon pollution and the worst effects of a warmer word allegedly will pass the USA by.

There are other reasons for our inaction. As I will briefly explain in my opening on Monday climate change is one of those “tragedy of the common” market failure problems. Compounding that it that it is global in scale and its worst effects are not yet visible and will be borne by future generations that can’t vote yet. For all of these reasons, the American public is ambivalent about doing anything – especially anything that involves any sacrifice – about climate change.

There is some good news, fortunately. China appears to take the issue seriously. There have been some major breakthroughs recently in green energy science and tech. And public support for action is rising.

Here are some articles related to our specific topic of why the truth lost and what’s the latest on what can be done about the problem.

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –

NEXT:  The case for and against corporate responsibility.

Monday’s Mtg: How much intolerance should society tolerate?

Aye, what a week to do this topic! I don’t mean because of our latest racist-motivated mass shootings. I mean that, despite a tepid speech advocating mutual tolerance in society, the last month or two have made it crystal clear that President Trump is going to center his entire reelection campaign on fear and hatred of immigrants and, um, certain types of Americans. At least by their silent acquiescence Republican Party elected leaders and the conservative news media are along for the ride. The only way not to see it is not to want to see it.

Still, Trump et. al., are the most visible but clearly not the only guilty parties here. What has been called, “the Great Disinhibition” has been occurring throughout American society. Social media, political polarization, economic stagnation and anxiety, and other forces all play a part. Hate crimes are up. Latinos live in fear. Threats of violence and intolerant rhetoric aimed at Latinos and other people of color are commonplace. Even political conservatives complain about being treated intolerantly and discriminated against.

What can be done about the forces that have been released in the last two years? Tools available to us as a society include:

  • Nothing: Punish crimes, let free speech reign, and ride it out.
  • Use the law – Use existing or new laws to rein in hate speech. Private law suits.
  • Use politics: Rhetoric, campaigning, winning.
  • Citizen organized boycotts and public shaming.
  • Pressure on the telecom technology giants to deny access to hate groups.
  • You and me: Self-control, reaching out to family colleagues, become a political activist/contributor…

This will be a well-attended, multi-faceted meeting. I will keep my opening remarks short. Please keep your comments on-topic and be sure to update your Meetup RSVP if you cannot attend.

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –

NEXT WEEK:  Climate Change – How can the truth start winning again?

Monday’s Mtg: What are the Democrats’ “Big Ideas?”

Well, the Democratic presidential candidates sure have been tossing around big, bold ideas for solving our country’s most festering problems. With so many candidates and this early in the process (it’s summer 2017, for God’s sake) it is hard to track all of the proposals and trial balloons. But we have heard ideas for:

  • Medicare for All or Most.
  • A universal basic income.
  • A Green New Deal.
  • Breaking up Google, Facebook, and other technology giants.
  • Free college for most students.
  • A wealth tax on accumulated wealth above $50m.
  • A major new law to protect and expand voting rights.
  • Creating a new cabinet Department of Economic Development, with a mandate to create and defend good jobs for Americans.
  • Decriminalizing (but NOT legalizing) illegal border entry and abolishing ICE (but NOT moving to “open borders”).

To say nothing of being against 3,000 mile border walls, more upper-bracket tax cuts, Muslim bans, repealing Obamacare and gutting Medicaid, and further financial and environmental deregulation.

Is it possible at this point to identify which of these big, bold ideas will survive the nominating process and which ones might sway (or dissuade!) voters? Let’s try on Monday. I will list a few big ideas that are emerging as Democratic consensus positions and campaign themes. Then we can debate.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. FIXES: What big ideas do you think are needed to solve America’s problems?
  2. FIXERS: Which presidential candidate and party faction has advocated which big ideas so far? Are there more to come?
    1. Debates last week: What did you think?
    2. Who is your favorite on substance and electability?
  3. STRATEGY: Do you worry that running on Big Ideas could either-
    1. Alienate many swing voters in in key states that Dems need to win the presidency and recapture the Senate and hold the House?
    2. Set up huge disappointment even if we do win because (see link #1!) getting any big ideas implement is impossible as long as the Republicans hold any virtually power at all?
  4. SPECIFIC AREAS: Immigration, health care, education, anti-trust , taxes, etc.
  5. DANGERS:  Any Dem idea will be pilloried as socialist and communist and unpatriotic.  Which Dem Big Ideas are most vulnerable to that demagoguery – and could any of the demagoguery hit close to the truth?

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS

Key context –

Big Ideas –

Strategies –

NEXT: How much intolerance should society tolerate?

Monday’s Mtg: How corrupt are U.S. politics and society, really?

Americans have got to start thinking about corruption in politics and in other societal institutions in a more sophisticated – and a more honest and accurate – way. Throwing up one’s hands and declaring all politicians equally “corrupt” and/or all big businesses equally immoral is part of what has gotten us into this horrid mess, IMO. It has bred cynicism and apathy and stood in the way of solutions.

As has all of the corruption itself, of course.

Still, what kinds of corruption are widespread and which matter most simply must be examined, and forthrightly, with as few preconceived notions as possible. In the last 20 years, everybody understandably has grown a bit world-weary about the corruption that seems to be rampant in America’s elite institutions. But myths abound, and exaggerations of some forms of corruption stand side-by-side with gross understatements of other corruption.

It’s really bad timing, too. I believe a genuinely new wave of corrupt attitudes and behaviors has consumed many of our elite institutions, both public and private. But it is not all institutions and not just of the petty personal kind (bribery and self-dealing). It is something far, far worse.

The articles below describe the different kinds of corruption in government, business, and other big institutions (like religious ones). They also explain what I believe to be the worst type of corruption and who is most responsible. Some of the material will be familiar if you closely follow public affairs or attended some of our recent meetings on related subjects:

On Monday I will give a short opening that will summarize the information in the readings. I also will expand on a few of these points and rise a few other issues, such as corruption in other countries and U.S. efforts to combat it / enable it.  We rank 22nd best out of 176 countries on a major corruption index, BTW, so we are FAR LESS corrupt than most other countries.

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –

NEXT WEEK:  What are the Democrats’ “Big Ideas?”

Monday’s Mtg: Why are Comic Con and science fiction so popular?

This weekend is the 50th anniversary of both the San Diego Comic Con convention and the first moon landing. Cosmic coincidence or vast conspiracy? I report, you decide.

Anyhoo, we did a meeting on sci-fi once before. In July 2016 we discussed what today’s science fiction and fantasy say about our society. All (good) fiction is a kind of mirror of our current cultural zeitgeist and someone’s vision of what’s good and bad in society – and/or in individual people’s hearts and minds. Science fiction and fantasy, MO, adds another wrinkle. They reflect our expectations, anxieties, and fears about the future.

For our sci-fi panel (no celebrities but easier to get into than Comic Con) Laura suggested we talk more generally about why sci-fi seems to have taken over popular fiction, especially movies and TV. What is the key to its popularity, aside from just better and cheaper to produce special effects? Laura also suggested we talk about Comic Con itself.

Here are a few of the articles I linked to for our 2016 sci-fi meeting, plus some interesting ones on Comic Con. I will see many of you at our annual party on Saturday. Enjoy your weekend.

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –

NEXT WEEK: How corrupt are American politics and society?

Monday’s Mtg: Was the liberal international order just a passing phase?

The overwhelming consensus is that the Donald Trump presidency has done substantial damage to the United States’ standing in the world. We have taken a possibly enormous hit to our –

  • Reputation as a stable democracy with stable leadership;
  • Commitment to remaining an open society that values rules-based systems for the conduct of commerce and the movement of people;
  • Dedication to our core alliances, global institutions, and the global rule of law; and
  • Willingness to cooperate with others to try to solve major 21st century problems, like climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Of course, there are other ways to look at it all. “America first” does not have to be a slogan signifying bullying, brinksmanship, and a belief that our friends are our enemies and vice versa. We discussed whether U.S. global leadership is slipping away in 2017 and whether NATO and our other major alliances will collapse in 2018.

But the big worry in expert international relations experts goes far beyond the quirky, erratic leadership of one man. Even before Trump’s rise, there was widespread worry that the “liberal international order,” or LIO, was starting to crumble – or even that it was doomed.

The LIO is a trendy expression for the rules-based, multilateral-institution-based system that the big powers, led by us, set up after WWII. This system (setting aside its many flaws for a moment) was designed to keep the peace between great powers, prevent another Great Depression by gradually freeing up trade and global investment, and set up rule-making bodies in other international areas, like finance border disputes.

The LIO had many critics on Left and Right. Some saw it as just a cover for American hegemony. Others noticed the Liberalism and the Order parts seldom were applied in large areas of the world, like the Middle East and Central America. Etc. Still, if the LIO (to the extent it persists) really is on the way out, it’s a big, big deal. What replaces it is just unknown at this point. Things could get better for the world – and the people of the USA – or much worse, depending on lots of factors ad events (and leadership).

Despite Trump, no one person can wreck the post-War global system single-handedly. But, no one can bring it back, either. History only goes forward. The United States needs a strategy for the future that maximizes what we want for our people and the world and minimizes the odds of disaster (especially on climate and nuclear war). The sooner we get a handle on what kind of a world is emerging and why we will bequeath to our kids, the better off they will be

This stuff is supposed to have been my field of study and professional specialty, more or less. (Damn, I wish we still had Ed to guide us in person!). So, I will open Monday”s meeting with a little longer than usual intro that

  1. Describes what is meant by “liberal international order” and the major criticisms of it;
  2. Explains the major forces at work that have been undermining the LIO.
  3. Attempts to list the kinds of global arrangements that could replace what we have now. (e.g., blocs dominated by hegemons like China in in Asia, USA in the Americas; a planet of slums with vast global inequality aggravated by severe climate change; or other much more optimistic scenarios.)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What is or was the “liberal international order?” Who set it up and why? Who was it for, and who got left out? Goals, components, etc.
  2. Major criticisms of the “LIO.” By the Left, the Right, developing nations, regular Americans…
  3. What forces were stressing this system after 1991 (USSR ended)? China’s rise, too much financial deregulation, AIDS and African civil wars, etc.
  4. Trump damage assessment.
  5. What’s next? Will the LIO survive, in what form? If not, what are the major foreseeable alternatives?
  6. Who cares? How will all this affect the regular Americans as they struggle to survive the 1sr century economy and politics? To hold good jobs, stay safe from terrorism, prevent climate catastrophe, and so on?
  7. So…what should our govt be doing about it? What should be our goals for global governance, how much should we spend on defense, foreign aid, etc.?

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –

NEXT:  Why are Comic Con and science fiction so popular?

Monday’s Mtg: WWJD, T. What Would Jesus Do if he were alive Today?

A fun thought experiment for a summer Monday.  How would a suddenly-returned Jesus see us and how would we see Him? What would he do? For whom and how?

Obviously, religious Christians say they know exactly what he would do. It’s all there in the New Testament, in Revelations and interspersed throughout the rest of the New Testament. Rapture, wrestle the beast, 1,000 year reign, etc. If you’re unfamiliar with these predictions click on some of the readings for our 2014 mtg on belief in the Apocalypse.

For the rest of us, this meeting gives us a chance to do what Ed, Wendy, and others already have started to do online at Meetup: Debate what Jesus stood for during his life and how he (and we!) might try to apply those values to the world we have created in the 2,000 years since Jesus left us. We could use this meeting to judge ourselves through Jesus’ values or him through ours. We could also do the historical Jesus thing (we did before; see below), and debate what is even knowable about this man and his philosophy since the earliest books of the Gospel were written 20 years+ after his death (and codified in their final form 300+ years after).

I love our religion meetings. Buy without much free time this holiday-ish weekend, here are a couple of articles and links to some of our other good meetings on related subjects. Some of them had some pretty good links.

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –

Related meetings:

NEXT WEEK: Was the liberal international order just a passing phase?

Monday’s Mtg: How can we – and our news media – fight fake news?

The cry of “fake news!” echoes cross the land. A relatively new term, at least in mass use, fake news originally referred exclusively to deliberately falsified news stories. Often published by fake journalists, these stories were made up in bad faith to provide false information that the writer knew to be untrue. Sometimes the authors were not even journalists at all, or not even humans (bots).

To be fair, phony news reporting has been around for a long time. Recall the role that false reporting by William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers played in ginning up the Spanish-American war. In the 1990s fake news got a new lease on life, IMO, thanks to the political Right’s attack machine. Remember all of those slanderous and phony charges against Bill and Hillary Clinton; e.g., that they were drug kingpins who had people murdered?

But as we all know 2016 was a watershed year for the fake news business. The bitter presidential election, the maturation of ideological social media echo chambers that could so easily transmit fake news, and foreign interference by the Russians and others were a kind of perfect (shit) storm for the tsunami of fake news we all experienced that year. Since none of the forces that drove the rise in fake news are going to disappear anytime soon, it seems like a great topic for Civilized Conversation.

I think our first order of business on Monday night should be to define what we mean by fake news. In particular, how does fake news differ – both in kind and in the level of harm it does – from the ideologically slanted news slash propaganda that is routinely pumped out on cable TV and political websites and on talk radio. To me, the latter is the bigger threat to our democracy. But, YMMV. It is especially important be clear what we mean by fake news because many conservatives, especially, like to refer to all journalistic reports they don’t like as “fake news.” It is hard to know if this is a general epithet or if they literally believe that the mainstream news media deliberately invents stories full of lies for partisan political purposes. In polls, they say they believe the latter!

Second, we should try to figure out why Americans are so easily seduced by fake news. Several studies (see links below) have shown that fake news crowded out real news in social media shares in the 2016 election cycle and that a majority of Americans (many, many Democrats and independents and a large majority of Republicans) believe the mainstream press commonly produces false information!

Finally, there is some good news we can discuss! Concrete steps are being taken to combat fake news. The social media giants like Facebook and Google are experimenting with ways to limit the spread of phony/false news and/or to caution viewers when such stories appear in their feeds. Of course, there is the potential for censorship, ideological bias against one side, etc. – another byproduct of our brave new world where 2-3 companies control virtually all news access. No one really wants government involvement in censoring even the most scurrilous propaganda, but it may come to that.

Here are some background articles on fake news and what’s being done about it to get you started.

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –

Problems –

Solutions?

NEXT WEEK: WWJD – T? What would Jesus do if he were here today?

Gale’s Seminar

As Gale mentioned last night, here is some info about the seminar she is teaching this Friday:

Self Defense for Seniors, Friday June 28, 1-2:30, Free. Balboa Park Club next to the Automotive Museum. To register call 619-236-6905. Please consider it for your mothers, sisters, friends. 50+ age range. Call Gale Bryan for questions regarding the class. 858-737-4082.

Monday’s Mtg: “Bro’ Culture:” What is it and what can we learn from it?

Dude. Peter suggested we talk about modern American masculinity. Or, more accurately, a subset of it that is frequently labeled, Bro’ culture.” Peter said he noticed this odd cultural phenomenon when he came over from Germany a few years back.

Civilized Conversation has noticed, too (if awareness and cultural observations can be attributed to a meetup group). We’ve done these two meetings:

The 2014 meeting focused mostly on the question of whether cultural expectations of masculinity were changing, and their causes. Suggested background readings included:

In 2017 we also talked about changing norms. But we also looked at:

For Monday, Peter suggested we be more clear about what bro’ culture is and what makes it so objectionable. But, he also want us to consider whether we can learn something from it – including something about ourselves and why we react so strongly to it. I, of course, feel we cannot avoid the toc of why Donald Trump appeals so readily to believers in a particular strain of aggressive and sorely aggrieved masculinity.

Peter suggested we read:

  1. What do we mean when we say “Bro’ culture” even though the term is a little bit ill-defined? Recommended.
  2. A portrait of your basic obnoxious bro.  Recommended.
  3. Regional variations on bro-ism.
  4. How do we change a bro-dominated culture?
  5. UPDATE by DavidG:  Read this on the “Incel” movement.  Excerpt:
    “Men, like women, blame women if they feel undesirable. And, as women gain the economic and cultural power that allows them to be choosy about their partners, men have generated ideas about self-improvement that are sometimes inextricable from violent rage…In the past few years, a subset of straight men calling themselves “incels” have constructed a violent political ideology around the injustice of young, beautiful women refusing to have sex with them.”

NEXT WEEK: The fight against fake news.