Category Archives: Mtg Announcements

Monday’s Mtg: What is the relationship between religion and democracy?

The conventional wisdom is that 230 years ago the United States invented the best way to let religious belief flourish in society without oppressing people. The first amendment’s free exercise clause guarantees the right to practice the religion of one’s choice and its establishment clause prohibits the government from creating an official state religion. The latter’s meaning has been expanded over two centuries to include state neutrality towards any particular religious sect and bans on government funding religious institutions or promoting religious symbols. To most Americans, this arrangement has worked pretty well to keep religion out of government vice versa.

Hasn’t it? When has religion intruded too far into American civic affairs? Is it doing so now? Or, is the problem the reverse: Too rigid an insistence on draining all religious values from politics and government? Either way, do recent changes in American society and politics pose any threat to religious freedom or to secular-based government? Changes like:

  • Recent large increase in the numbers of non-religious Americans;
  • Hardening of the partisan political divide on issues closely associated with religious morality;
  • Rise and partial eclipse of the U.S. religious Right.
  • Religiously-inspired terrorism, Middle East wars, anti-Muslim sentiment;
  • LGBT rights movement’s rapid successes;
  • Immigration wave and the backlash to it; and
  • Unified conservative control of govt inc. Supreme Court.

Beyond church/state matters, religion plays a huge role in American politics. As we discussed two years ago, religiosity motivates voting, shapes rhetoric, spurs organizing, and justifies policy making. We could revisit these basic issues, which never go away.

For the rest of the world it gets even more interesting. The exact relationship between religion and democracy is a huge issue in development theory. Can societies that are as pious as or more so than the USA successfully transition to liberal democracy? Are there common problems and issues they face, or are some regions of the world or even particular religions unique? Is secularization a prerequisite to democracy, an effect of it, or neither? Etc.

Here are some thing to read up on if you want.

FYI, Monday will be our last meeting before the holidays. On December 19 Betty, Jeff, and DavidG will decide Jan – April topics, and we need ideas.


NEXT WEEK: No mtg, happy holidays!

Monday’s Mtg: How true and appropriate are cultural stereotypes?

The use and misuse of cultural stereotypes is a hot topic these days, in both politics and the social sciences. In politics, obviously, there is a far greater emphasis on battling offensive cultural stereotypes than there used to be and more awareness (at least rhetorically) on their pernicious effects. Arguably, this increased sensitivity has helped to produce the “anti-political correctness” backlash that features so prominently in conservative politics. Call it a backlash against language oppression. Call it disgust with people overgeneralizing about other people’s motives in generalizing.

Or call it something a lot worse. Either way, stereotypes as tools of power and weapons in politics can make for a fun discussion. But only if we honor the civilized part of our group’s name.

The science is interesting, too. Experts are studying the psychological origins of cultural stereotypes, especially implicit bias and other cognitive shortcuts we take that can steer us to oversimplify other people’s “nature.” Some of the suggested readings below explain a bit about these findings.

Some cultural generalizations are true, of course. Or at least useful. Our group could debate specific cultural stereotypes. Obvious ones involve gender, race, religion, and ethnicity. But there are others related to age, education levels, rural/urban, etc. Which ring true? Finally, when is it appropriate to actually rely on cultural stereotypes? At work? When reading the news? When dating? What about when teaching your kids right from wrong?

Don’t really sweat the readings this week. But, the psych ones re interesting. Also, I added a few on a pet peeve of mine: The alleged American (African-American, usually implied) “culture of poverty.” I present a little bit from both sides, YMMV.


NEXT: What’s the relationship between religion and democracy?

Monday’s Mtg: Is the United States “too big to fail?”

The term, “too big to fail” has been around for a long time.  Since at least the 1970s the federal government has bailed out the creditors of many large, insolvent companies on the theory that the bankrupt firms’ debts were so large and widely held that their sudden failure would disrupt/damage the broader financial system and take the real economy down with them. Countries have gone bankrupt too, and we have helped to bail out their creditors sometimes. The 2008 federal bailout of Wall Street – in which the Federal Reserve put $7 trillion at risk – made TBTF a widely-known concept.

Could the United States ever fail in this way: Default on its debts? We came close in 2013 due to the Republican Congress’ attempt to blackmail President Obama into cutting spending. The likelihood of a deliberate default has since waned. The likelihood of an accidental ((sudden, market panic driven) U.S. debt crisis gets way too much overwrought attention, IMO. But it is not impossible.

Since Donald Trump’s election there has been a lot of talk of the United States failing in other senses. These include abandoning global leadership, cutting back provision of global public goods, and ceasing to serve as a model of liberal democracy and a counterweight to rising authoritarian powers. Of course, long before Trump’s rise a lot of Americans had concluded that our government was failing domestically – at protecting the interests of regular people and at solving the country’s problems. Are we too big or too stable or too democratic or too something for things to get a lot worse?

I thought it might be fun (so to speak) to talk about TBTF in either the fiscal/financial, foreign policy, political paralysis, or social contract perspective. Of course no country is too big to fail if no outside power is capable of intervening to prevent it. Maybe we should focus more on

  1. What does “failing” mean for the USA? Are we near it and why? Is there even consensus on what failure means?
  2. Who is there to help us avoid such a fate: Just us, foreigners? How so?
  3. Who would take the reins of global leadership if we falter and with what consequences?

I will explain some of the nuances of TBTF’s meaning in my short opening on Monday, and then we can go in whichever direction suits us.


NEXT WEEK: Privatizing education – Solution, scam, or in between?

Monday’s Mtg: Will – or can – Republican elites ever stand up to Trump?

It’s on now. Not because the Democrats regained some power in Tuesday’s midterm elections. But because on Wednesday President Trump fired the Attorney General and replaced him with a flunky, thus commencing the end-game phase of his two-year effort to shutter the Mueller investigation and to place federal law enforcement under his personal control.

This particular gambit may fail. Whitaker is an especially unqualified and possibly an illegal choice. And yes, Tuesday’s loss of the House complicates the GOP’s future plans. But, by every appearance Trump remains in complete control of his party. This meeting, scheduled before Sessions firing, was meant as a chance for Civilized Conversation to digest the election’s results and to look for any signs that Trump’s tight grip on the GOP might be loosening.

Also, at scheduling time it looked as if Trump was going to (1) preside Politburo-in-the-grandstands style over a military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday and (2) meet with Vladimir Putin in Paris on Tuesday. DOD talked him out of holding the parade but the Putin meeting is still on. I thought that if anything could spur the GOP to start pushing back on this president it might be this confluence of losing the midterms plus an Il Duce-like parade appearance plus a sudden push to destroy the Mueller probe – all in the same week.

We will see. On Monday night I will start us off with a brief summary of late-breaking developments and a preview of the coming lame duck session of congress. Then we can discuss these or other questions.


  1. 2015-18: Why has Trump won and kept the hearts of Republican voters and the loyalty of GOP leaders? Are liberals sure they know why?
  2. Nov Election: Is the ugly campaign and its losing outcome enough to give current GOP leaders or voters pause? With fewer moderates left will the GOP try to pursue them or turn more extreme?
  3. Where could intra-GOP opposition to Trumpism even come from? Could anything cause right-wing news media to turn on Trump?
  4. Tipping points: Are any possible? Could Trump do anything to shake their confidence? If not, why not?
  5. Dems: What should Democrats do? Move right v. left? Bigger tent tactics v. energize Dem base? Change tone nicer v. meaner? Investigate and subpoena? Focus on a positive agenda?


Note: We have talked many times re Trump/Trumpism/GOP. So, few new links this week – but one really important one, IMO.

NEXT WEEK: Is the USA “too big to fail?” What if it does?

Monday’s Mtg: What are the implications of having an all-White GOP and a mainly non-White Democratic Party?

In 2012, on the eve of another critical election, Civilized Conversation discussed a very important topic: Whether our two major political parties were becoming de facto racial/ethnic political parties, an all-white Republican Party and a minority-based Democratic Party. The GOP already was 90% white. The Democrats were still a majority-white party, but barely so. Within a few election cycles African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and other minorities were expected to comprise a majority of its votes.

Shortly after our meeting this “Obama coalition” (again, it is majority-white) came through again for the Democrats. President Obama was re-elected and a shiver was sent down the spines of Republican leaders. Amidst the wreckage the GOP commissioned a major study of what went wrong. The post-mortem found the exact same problem that had been apparent for years. The Republican base is a shrinking demographic, especially its white working class and evangelical components. Within a few short years the Party would face a hard choice: Either (A) alter much of its rhetoric and policies to appeal to a broader spectrum of Americans or (Bb) double down and try to squeeze a few more percentage points out of white voters for as long as possible.

The GOP leadership chose plan A. They softened some rhetoric, tried again to pass comprehensive immigration reform, fronted non-Anglo candidates like Marco Rubio and Nicky Haley, and even issued a formal apology for having used the “southern strategy” that appealed to white resentment of civil rights and social programs.

Six years later, so much for plan A. As we all know, Tea Party politicians, the GOP’s base voters, and right-wing news media would have none of it. It is Donald Trump’s party now, body and soul.

Is this our grim future? A future of at least one and possibly two ethnically-based major political parties, with all of the potential for division and strife that such a politics has engendered in many other countries? How did we get so far down this road so fast? Will “white” and “non-white” ever lose their power over us? Alternatively, are these fears hyperbolic? Is divided-by-color too simplistic a way to view U.S. politics?

Opinions vary. I will open this important meeting with a short introduction on the basic ideas I’m trying to get at. Then hopefully we can think and ponder long-term – beyond the outrage of the day news cycle.




NEXT, a related topic: Will GOP elites ever stand up to President Trump?

Monday’s Mtg: Are we in a “Sixth Mass Extinction?”

Environmental problems are almost completely ignored in the popular American press. Given our ongoing democratic crisis, this is kind of understandable. Yet, long-term damage is being done to the planet’s carrying capacity in a number of ways.

Scott suggested we discuss one of those ways that is even more ignored than most: Mass species extinction. Scientists say planet earth is in the midst of a sixth great “mass extinction,” a rapid die-off of very large number of animal and plant species. The five other mass extinctions that have occurred before (like the dinosaurs) altered natural history profoundly. This one will too, they say.

But, how much do we know about how mass extinctions occur and their consequences? Is #6 really happening? How much is known versus unknown and thus speculative? What can be done?

In DavidG’s absence Scott will preside over Monday’s meeting.  He also provided most of the optional pre-mtg readings. Enjoy.


  1. What is the history of mass extinction events on planet earth?
  2. What is known about the current extinction event taking place? How certain are scientists about what is going on?
  3. Up to 99% of this extinction is human-caused. How are we doing this?
  4. What evidence exists that we are heading toward a massive, 6th mass extinction event? How badly will humans be affected by it?
  5. What can we do about it?



NEXT: What if we end up with an all-White Republican party and a largely non-White Democratic party?

Monday’s Mtg: Which One Event In U.S. History Would You Change?

We did this topic four years ago in 2014.  Below is its pre-mtg post with its optional readings.  Of course, since then we may just possibly have experienced a big event or two that would top many peoples’ lists of “wish it never happened.”  😉



This idea from Gale sounds like a fun conversation.  It’s basically an exercise in “what if” history, also known as counterfactual history.  Counterfactual history is a thing.  There are books and blogs and discussion groups on-line devoted to imagining how history might have unfolded if, say, some battle or election or catastrophe had turned out differently.

I thought I’d skip the usual opening presentation.  (Pause for cheering.)  Instead, I’ll just ask who has ideas on what they might change and why, and then I’ll moderate as the group discusses the possible ramifications of the counterfactual.

This stuff isn’t as easy as it seems.  Asking what if is basically asking another question:  What are history’s “hinges,” the moments when our future really did, or could have but did not, take off in a whole new direction?  If  Napoleon had not sold us the Louisiana purchase, we probably would have acquired it eventually, anyway.  But, what if Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan had missed their targets, or if  the Supreme Court had not awarded the presidency to George W. Bush?   Or, if Hamilton had killed Burr in their duel and not the other way around?  When does history turn on the acts of individuals and when does it turn on impersonal social and cultural and economic forces?


Mistakes were made –

Alternate and counterfactual history –

Next Week:  Earth’s ongoing “sixth mass extinction:”  Causes and coping.

Monday’s Mtg, Part 2: Pros and Cons of 2018 San Diego Ballot Propositions

Here are some good and SHORT summaries of the county and local propositions.  For state props., see the next post down.

Here is a bit more on some that caught my eye as being significant.


Measure D election dates: Puts all county elections in November.

  • Currently, county elections have a primary in June and the two top winners go on to November (unless someone wins over 50% in primary).
  • Prop. D moves these [non-partisan] elections to November.
  • Progressives put this on the ballot so they could finally win Board of Supervisors + other county offices.
  • Pros: Ultra-low turnout primaries should not determine who wins – Nov. better reflects public’s will. City elections are already in November.
    And: Democrats will win more since primaries favor the shrinking GOP.
  • Cons: Democrats will win more. November ballot already includes ALL propositions, making it already overcrowded.
  • Pros and cons in more detail are here.

Measure E + Measure G – Chargers stadium:

Measure H – Term limits for school board

  • Limits Board members to three, four-year terms starting in 2020.
  • Pros and cons: The usual ones surrounding term limits.
  • ALSO: This would keep the elections at-large, meaning only a district’s voters choose the primary winner and in November the entire city votes on each Board member. Republicans wanted district elections for both. Usually, the parties are on opposite sides on the at-large v. district elections issue, but in this case at-large ones elect more Democrats and vice versa.

Measure K – Term limits for city council members –

  • Change to two, four-year terms. Partial terms count as one.
  • They already are chosen by individual districts.

Next Week: What one event in U.S. history would you change?



Monday’s Mtg: November’s Ballot Propositions, Part I

It’s our biennial ballot mark-up meeting! This November 6th there are 11 statewide propositions to consider and over a dozen local initiatives, depending on where you live in San Diego County. Four of them address the state’s massive housing problems. We can go over all of the state ones since folks have liked doing that in the past. For a change they are conveniently numbered 1-12 (no #9)

But, going over every state proposition in detail would leave us little if any time to discuss any of the local ones. So, perhaps we could focus most of our energy on the high profile state props.

Money is a good proxy for controversy in CA initiative races. Four of them, including two of the housing ones, have received more than $20 million in total contributions including at least $1 million from each side. They are:

  • 5: Allows senior/disabled to keep paying Prop. 13-level low property taxes if they buy any new CA home.
  • 6: Repeals a recent fuel tax and vehicle fee increase and makes it harder to impose new ones.
  • 8: Requires dialysis clinics to refund revenues above a certain amount.
  • 10: Allows local governments to impose rent control.

This post discusses these four measures and provides links to info about all the others and endorsements from the two major parties.  I will do another post tomorrow that will do the same for County and San Diego city propositions.

At the mtg I will introduce each proposition with some info about what it is, who is for and against it, and pros and cons.  (And, yes, nationally November is going to be one of the most important off-year elections in American history. We can discuss that, too, but note that our first two topics after the election relate to its outcome and ramifications.)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for each proposition –

  1. Who is responsible for putting it on the ballot and why? Who is spending the bulk of the money on it?
  2. What would the measure do?
  3. Who is for and against it: Political parties, newspapers/press, interest groups.
  4. Substantive pros and cons. Any misleading arguments being used?
  5. Elected offices state, county, city, other: Which ones matter most, should matter most, will be close races?


Prop. 5 PROPERTY TAX: Allows elderly and disabled homeowners keep Prop. 13’s low property tax rates when they move to new homes.

  • Currently, CA homeowners aged 55+ or severely disabled can transfer their low Prop. 13 property tax base to a replacement home, but only in same county, only if of equal or lesser value, and only once in lifetimes.
  • Prop 5 ends these limits, basically.
  • Pros: Eliminates “moving penalty” for elderly/disabled homeowners, saving them up to $1B/year in taxes. Maybe would free up old housing stock for young owners.
  • Cons: $1B less for schools, infrastructure, etc. It won’t free up housing. Makes CA property tax even less fair. Helps wealthy homeowners “devastates” (SacBee) local govts and schools.
  • Backstory: Realty industry is sole sponsor, but GOP, anti-tax folks like it.
  • For it: San Diego UT.
  • Against it: SacBee. SF Chronicle.

Prop. 6 FUEL TAX: Repeals 2017 fuel tax and vehicle fees hikes + requires voter approval (by initiative) for any future increases.

  • Lowers taxes by $5 billion per year by 2020: 12 cents/gallon gas, 20 cents/g diesel, vehicle fees.
  • Slashes spending for CA highways, roads, mass transit.
  • Backstory: Meant to turn out GOP voters, increase anger at state govt, boost Carl DeMaio’s career.
  • For it: The Yes on 6 campaign.
  • Against it: LA Times, CA Chamber of Commerce (!), SacBee.

Prop 8 DIALYSIS CLINICS: Requires dialysis clinics to refund fees above 115% of “costs” as the proposition defines costs.

    • Clinics could only charge 115% of costs (as defined by prop. 8) to dialysis patients or their insurers. Fines up to $100,000. Clinics banned from discriminating in treatment based on who’s paying (Medicaid, self, etc.)
    • Backstory: A union (SEIU) put it on the ballot after dialysis clinics refused to unionize.
    • Pros: Huge overpricing huge markups over costs, dominated by two companies. Costs are passed on to other insureds. Prop. 8 defines “costs” properly.
    • Cons: Leverage in a union dispute is a misuse of the initiative process. Only 70% of clinics true costs are included in “costs.” Medical community opposes it.
    • For it: List of supporters.
    • Against: SD UT. SacBee.
  • Prop. 10 RENT CONTROL. Repeals a law that prohibits county and local govts from imposing rent control. Requires that rents allow landlords a “fair rate” of return.
    • A 1995 law bans rent control in CA except for a few grandfathered units.
    • Prop. 10 would repeal it, allowing local govts to impose rent control for any type of rental housing as long as landlords can earn a “fair financial return” on their properties.
    • Backstory: Rentals is worst part of CA housing crisis, especially in a few cities. Rent control is no one’s first choice.
    • Pros: Rents devastate regular people and harm CA economy. Building more units is vital but takes forever and prices barely budge. Worth a shot + helps leverage better solutions. AndL Prop. 10 does not mandate rent control; just leaves it up to locals.
    • Cons: Rent control shrinks rental supply esp. by encouraging condo/townhouse conversions. Prop. 10 would apply to house rentals not just apts. Better to just build more rental housing. Big Govt solution.
    • For it: LA Times.
    • Against. San Jose Mercury News. Fresno Bee.

NEXT: Which one event in American history would you change?



Monday’s Mtg: How can we protect the human rights of migrants?

Most of the focus on President Trump’s immigration policies has been on its most visible and controversial components. The news media has been all over the “Muslim ban,” the executive order to ban immigration from a half-dozen predominantly Muslim countries. Likewise, the policy to separate undocumented children from their parents and detain them under harsh conditions and Trump’s cancelling of Temporary Protected Status for 193,000 refugees from distressed countries, many of whom have been living in the United States for decades.

These are all important. Yet, a lot of people are missing the big picture. Trump – with the full support of the overwhelming majority of his political party – is fundamentally realigning U.S. immigration policy. Since at least the mid-1990s, the system’s focus has been on preventing new illegal immigrants from arriving and deporting those already here that had been found to commit serious crimes.

That is all changing. There are no more official enforcement priorities in U.S. immigration policy. Any of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living here can be deported at the whim of whatever law enforcement officers and agencies they come into contact with. This not only spreads fear; it invites human rights abuses. Trump and his followers also are demanding a decline in legal immigration levels, including refugees.

Andrea wanted to discuss the human rights aspects of our new anti-immigrant government. Fair enough. It is hard to dispute the deliberate cruelty of much of the Trump Administration is doing. Nor can there be much doubt that the real goal is to make America whiter.

But, in my mind we cannot let this blind us to larger issues concerning immigration that will endure even after Trump leaves the scene. As some of the readings below note the U.S. immigration system is under-resourced and overwhelmed.  The basic human rights of immigrants – including illegal ones- have to be protected.  But, how to do so in a 21st century full of mass migration will not be easy, even after Trump has left the scene.

Here are some readings on America’s sprawling and largely hidden immigrant detention and adjudication system, along with some commentaries on its human rights shortcomings. I will open our meeting by describing that system and introducing some of the tough issues surrounding immigration. Of course we can discuss forced child separations and other grotesqueries.

Lots of Atlantic Monthly links this week, including your conservative POV (conservative-ish. You don’t want to read a lot of what the Right is saying about illegal immigration these days.)


NEXT: November’s Ballot Propositions.