Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday’s Mtg Part 1: Where do Americans get their news?

There will be two pre-mtg posts this week to preview our Labor Day topic on the news media. This one just links to a study on and some list of where Americans get their news and political information.

  • Where do we get our news from?  See this summary of Pew Center research.
  • Top 15 most popular news websites:   The top five are
    1. Yahoo (175 million unique monthly visitors)
    2. Google (150 million)
    3. Huffington Post (110m).
    4. CNN (95m)
    5. NYT (70m)
  • Top 15 political websites:  Top 5 are
    1. Huffington Post (80 million)
    2. Breitbart (60m)
    3. Drudge Report (30m)
    4. Politico (25m)
    5. The Hill (20m)
  • Top 15 social networking sites. These include #12 Meetup (42 million) and:
    1. Facebook (1.5 billion)
    2. YouTube (1.5 billion)
    3. Twitter (400m) 

NEXT: What constitutes responsible journalism today; some POVs.

Monday’s Mtg: Fixing California’s Affordable housing crisis.

As everybody knows our state’s perennial affordable housing problem has turned into a full blown crisis in recent years.  It is simultaneously a supply crisis (too few houses and rental units being built) and a demand crisis (too many people wanting to live in too few big coastal cities with stagnant incomes exacerbated by rising inequality).

Housing costs are a huge burden to millions of Californians, but it’s more than that.  Peoples’ inability to find a decent place to live, especially in our coastal areas where most of the opportunities are, may be turning into an anchor that drags down the state’s economy in the future.  Since CA is a major engine of national growth and since affordable housing is a problem in many other parts of the country, we need to find some way out of the crisis for everybody’s sake.

To their partial credit, in the last few years the state’s politicians have made affordable housing a priority. In 2017, the legislature passed a package of 15 new laws designed to jump start an increase in housing supply. Three more measures that might help will be on the November 2018 ballot – including a return to rent control. More radical ideas have been proposed, including a law that would have let the state government override just about any local zoning law that interferes with building new affordable housing. That bill got killed in committee in April, but its sponsor has vowed to try again.

The articles below explain some of the major causes of our state’s mushrooming housing crisis and the new and some of these proposed fixes. The biggest cause, from what I gather, is an old problem. Local elites control zoning decisions and – especially in the suburbs – they almost never want to permit greater living densities in their neighborhoods. But as I will go over I my opening remarks, there are other obstacles that might be more amenable to fixing without overriding all local control over housing. These include the changing the tax system, building codes, tenants’ rights laws, environmental law, and others.

This is a really great topic to illustrate a key point about politics. The news media focuses relentlessly on national issues, the partisan divide, and personalities. Yet, the parts of government that often affect people’s lives the most is this kind of stuff right here: State and local laws and regulations concerning land use, economic development, and taxes.  Many of the key decisions are made by low-visibility boards and panels, not by elected officials. It’s boring but it matters.

If California can find ways to encourage affordable housing that are consistent with other progressive priorities (like environmental stewardship, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and being fair to working people and friendly to business development) then our state will once again lead the way for the nation in the 21st century.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. Problem: How big is problem? Where? For whom? What kind of housing?
  2. Problem? Should building more and more housing at virtually any cost really be such a top priority?
  3. Causes of the problem.  Biggest ones.  Most intractable ones.  Most partisan ones.
  4. Solutions tried recently: 2017’s fifteen new laws, SB827 (would have allowed steamrolling local zoning regs), etc..
  5. Solutions:  Three Nov. Propositions.  Rent control issues.  SB827-type solution.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

The Problem –

Solutions (??)

NEXT WEEK:  Is human nature best grasped by science, philosophy, or religion?

Monday’s Mtg: Will technology make war too easy?

A technological revolution is coming to…everything, obviously, including warfare. We aren’t talking just about smart bombs and armed drones anymore. The future might bring us automated battles fought by robots with artificial intelligence, swarms of micro-drones that can replicate themselves, self-guided bullets, non-lethal weapons (that can be used on political protestors, BTW), particle beam rifles, gene-spliced bioweapons, and other armaments beyond our imagination.

This stuff is so important that in the next two month we will have three topics related to it. First up on Monday is the basics. We will learn about some of the wilder military technologies that are being developed to the extent we can know about such secret stuff; how their availability and employment could change how we get into/avoid wars, fight them, and finish them; and some of the broad ramifications for national defense, international relations, and our safety.

On May 28 we will consider the future of nuclear deterrence in particular, as suggested by James, focusing on whether nuclear war is going to remain as unthinkable as it is today. Finally, on June 18th we bring it all together and also tackle President Trump’ specialty: Brinksmanship and threatening war as a routine tool of negotiating.

Here are the usual discussion questions and optional readings. The reading focus on future gee-wiz weaponry under development and possible implications for war and peace. As you read, think about our basic topic question: Is war about to become too easy to wage? In my opening remarks I will list some of the technologies and some hopefully useful ways to think about some of these dilemmas.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. History: How has the world dealt with military technological revolutions in the past? E.g., nuclear weapons, chemical/biological, and earlier? Lessons learned?
  2. Future war: Which technologies are at issue and how could they make wars easier to start and harder to deter and end? Easier/harder for whom – USA/allies, adversary nations, terrorists and criminals)? What will “war” mean in 20-30 years?
  3. Implications: Tradeoffs (esp. reducing costs of war vs. lowering its threshold). Implications for deterrence and diplomacy? Ethics/morality.
  4. Uncertainty: What is the danger of us thinking future wars will be easier and being proven wrong, or vice versa?
  5. Options: What’s best – Develop capability, arms races, arms control, alliances, prepare the public to live with uncertainty?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

  • Key point: Technological advances never made war unthinkable in the past.

New technologies –

War becoming too easy?

No, war will never be easy –

NEXT WEEK: Do atheists tend to be intolerant?

Monday’s Mtg (2/12/18): U.S. foreign policy – How do we know we are the good guys?

This topic is just a way to ask two big questions, I think. They are (1) What motivates America’s interaction with the rest of the world, and (2) how much “good” do we really accomplish and for whom (domestically and abroad)?

Conversations on topics like this often focus on the wars we have fought and their moral justification and successes or failures. CivCon’s discussions of war and peace issues tend to enter around the basic Left v. Right cleavage on the morality of those wars and who they are really fought for. To (some but not all) progressives, the U.S. government has been the bad guy in many times and places, mainly because “we the People” in our foreign policy is really “We, the Corporations” or “We, the neoconservative imperialists.” Many (but not all) conservatives seem to think our country’s moral virtue and exceptionalism are beyond questioning and that our national interests are broad, unchanging, and best advanced through violence and threats of violence. Both sides off and on return to an old American tradition: An almost messianic desire to spread our values, both democratic and capitalist.

Civilized Conversation has managed to broaden this stale debate in the past, IMO. Beyond wars and “other “hard power,” we also have dealt with “soft power” issues like trade policy, non-coercive diplomacy, and immigration.

Now, of course, we have to add two new wrinkles brought to us by the Trump Administration. One is a resurgent patriotism (or belligerent nationalism, depending on your POV) that Trump created and/or rode into the oval office. The other is his sharp retreat from global leadership under his campaign slogan “American First.”  (We did meetings on both of these. See below.)

So, my idea was that we could go over different POVs on the (1) intentions and (2) results of the biggest chunks of our recent foreign policy, including but not limited to wars and military coercion. I don’t think people have to know much about foreign affairs for this to be a good meeting. To me our topic is really all about who you think the “We” is in “our” relations with the rest of the world.

NEWBIES: Please note that the readings are optional and some are tagged as being more useful than others. I may start reducing the number of readings since I think they scare away new members. What do the rest of you think?

OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READING –

Basic background and related CivCon mtgs –

 

Good guys, bad guys, or neither –

 

NEXT WEEK: Would gun control really reduce crime?

Monday’s Mtg: What should every American know about the Constitution?

We have talked about the Constitution many, many times and in many detailed and abstract ways. We have never asked what should the average citizen know about the Constitution, both in terms of what’s in the document and why it matters.

What they do know is not much. The level of public ignorance of our founding document is astounding. Forget bills of attainder, living constitution versus original meaning, and substantive due process.  More than one-third of Americans cannot name a single right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and one in six believe Muslims are not entitled to equal constitutional rights and equal protection!

So, or our purposes assume that the average American is a tabula rasa on this stuff. What are the most critical, basic things about the Constitution that they need to know? Do they need to be familiar with anything other than the bare basics of the Bill of Rights and the basic powers of government?  What about the history of how and why the Constitution was written and/or a teeny little bit on how judges and SCOTUS interpret it? What do people probably need to unlearn that is wrong?  You get the idea.

Below are some optional readings. They include a quiz for YOU to take on basic Constitutional knowledge; discussions of public ignorance and its importance; and links to some old CivCon meetings. You might want to peruse the two meetings that dealt with progressive versus conservative methods of constitutional interpretation if you are not familiar at all with the subject. The one on the liberal POV had the better links.

Also, at Monday’s meeting I will pick which two volunteers will help me pick our next round of topics (March – June). Send me your topic ideas!

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Related CivCon meetings:

Your knowledge of the Constitution –

What they teach kids about the Constitution –

  • In California: What kids learn, by grade.
  • There is a “National Constitution Day” every September 17, by law. School kids must spend an hour on it with.  DavidG has been a guest speaker in local high school classes.
  • California is trying to promote/recognize constitutional and civic knowledge.
  • The Simpsons version of Schoolhouse Rock explains it all.

What the public actually knows –

NEXT WEEK: US foreign policy – How do we know we are the good guys?

Monday’s Mtg: Understanding the Prosperity Gospel and its appeal

If you don’t know what the Prosperity Gospel is and how popular it has become you should. President Trump has been associated with this controversial set of religious beliefs for years. A prosperity Gospel preacher gave the invocation at his inauguration and another one advices Trump.

Moreover, Trump voters’ belief that he embodies the virtues promoted by the prosperity gospel probably explains a lot of his shockingly- high level of support (over 80%) among White U.S. Evangelicals. There are a lot of prosperity gospel-friendly Americans. According to one study (see link below) something like one in five churches in the United States preach a version of the prosperity gospel and about one in six American Christians can be described a lose adherents to its main tenets.

What tenets are those? What is the prosperity gospel and how did it originate in the United States? How Christian is it (that’s fiercely debated)? How American is it (very)? What does that tell us about the interrelationship between the Christian creed and the American creed? Why does the prosperity gospel ring true to so many low-income White Americans and African-Americans? Why are prosperity gospel churches mushrooming abroad, especially in poor but up and coming regions of the world like Africa?

I know most of us in Civilized Conversation are secular in outlook. But, what are the major critiques of prosperity gospel-like thinking from within Christianity? Many Christian leaders – from Rick Warren to Jerry Falwell! – have fiercely denounced the prosperity gospel as unchristian and even heretical. Much of the ire has focused on some of the movement’s leading figures, like Joel Osteen, who runs one of the largest churches in the country in Houston. Pope Francis has roundly condemned this doctrine.

This isn’t exactly my area of expertise. But, if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that the millions of regular Americans that don’t get much media attention or cultural respect matter, too. So, here are a few readings on the basics of the prosperity gospel philosophy and some critiques of it. Our religious topics are among our best meetings, I’ve always thought. I’m looking forward to it.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

What is the Prosperity Gospel?

  • Wiki’s Prosperity Theology entry; basic explanation. Recommended.
  • Longer explanation + did prosperity gospel suckers help to create 2008 housing crisis?  Useful if you have time.

Trump and the Prosperity Gospel –

Some specific critiques –

NEXT WEEK: Is the American diet unhealthy?

Something for Sal

(See next post down for “Monday’s Mtg” post.)

Gang – Sal contacted me about helping to spread the word about an event his daughter Cori is hosting to unveil her new album.  Anything for Sal, so here is the info.

______________________

Hi David. My daughter Cori tried sending the following to you but it did not go through. Any assistance you can give in spreading the word for her would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you. Sal

______________________

Hi Dad, I can’t reply to this email directly that you forwarded but if you could forward this to your contact at the group if they’d like to enjoy the concert or help spread the word: I am hosting a night of music, art and dancing and would love if any local art lovers would like to join! On November 11th at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, join us for this special night of live, original music with a private concert by 12 musicians, private gallery viewings and access to the museum’s current special exhibit “Memories of Underdevelopment”, and cocktails and dancing! Named one of San Diego’s Top Singer-Songwriters, I am releasing my locally produced album and celebrating by hosting this night and I would like to invite any other lovers of the arts and especially who believe in the importance of support local art to come enjoy a private concert and the beauty of the museum. The Museum of Contemporary Art has been kind enough to work on this with me and I’m so excited to present this musical opportunity! Tickets and event details can be found at the link provided. The code ILOVEORIGINALMUSIC5 can be used for a limited time to save on tickets. (The cost of tickets goes to cover the cost of the museum and the artists) Here are the links:

FOR TICKETS AND EVENT DETAILS: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cori-the-music-album-release-and-cori-ography-anniversary-party-tickets-38256939536?aff=eac2

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HEAR THE MUSIC: https://coriandthemusic.bandcamp.com/album/who-am-i

GET YOUR TICKETS TO THE ALBUM RELEASE PARTY! 11/11 @ The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (downtown) The newest album ‘Who Am I?’ is available now! LISTEN NOW ON BANDCAMP Join the Cori & The Music Fan List! Corina “Cori” Presutti http://www.coricompany.com Dance Music Music Dance Join the Cori-ography Mailing List!

Monday’s Mtg: What Is Progressive Religion?

Instead of a new introduction to this topic, I refer you to my framing from our meeting of several years ago on “does religion have to be conservative?”

We have had several other excellent discussions of the nature of religion and there were some good links.  Here’s a list of those meetings, plus a few more optional readings.  For many more fine articles that provide insights into the inherently conservative or liberal nature of specific religions, I refer you to the entire Internet.

Have a great Christmas, everyone and perhaps I’ll see you on Monday.

SUGGESTED BACGROUND READINGS –

Next Week:  Are we paying too high a price to combat terrorism?

Good article opposing Prop. 53.

Prop. 53 is like so many California propositions.  A pet project of a single wealthy person. It would require statewide voter approval of all bond issuances over $2 billion.  What’s not to like about more voter control over govt spending and borrowing?

Read this to find out.

We have new topics, Oct – Jan

Thanks to Linda and Aaron (Bruce’s son Aaron), we have new topics.  See sidebar or “Upcoming mtg Schedule” tab.  The first few mtgs are:

Oct 3:  What should U.S. school kids be taught about history   [last of old schedule]
Oct 10, 2016: Is the death penalty in American on the way out?
Oct 17: November ballot propositions.
Oct 24: Fox News at 20:  How has it changed America?
Oct 31: Our Franken-future? Will Transhumanism improve our species genetically?

Hard copies will be available next mtg.