The World We Live In

Egocentrism is a term generally used as a pejorative. But, every human is born into a world that exists only within the self. A baby reaches out to touch a parent’s face and discovers another. His/her existence for the next several years involves many such discoveries. At some point, normally before pre-school, the outside world that seems to revolve around the infant reveals the most intimate and important experience of all: he/she is not only separate, but a subject or conscious agent in this world. Unfortunately, this revelation does not prepare that infant to deal with this outside world. For the next several years, the child will explore his/her ability to interact, to change, to build or destroy the things in this world. More significantly, he/she will learn to connect and communicate with parents, other children, and adults, mostly patterning behavior learned from the home environment. As the child grows into adolescence and adulthood, knowledge of both the physical and social world expands. But, at every point in human development, perception of the outside world is relative. In fact, that perception gradually becomes an ever-expanding network that exists only in the individual, not in the world that exists outside of the veil of his/her perception. It is only when we discover our personal isolation that we begin to understand our limitations and the only path to maturity.

Egocentrism is the albatross that warns us of the storm on the horizon. It tells us that we are not safe at sea, unless we attempt to steer free of the storm. Development of an ego, in psychological terms, is an escape from the id. But it can be its own prison. In fact, we can never escape our personal perspective, but we can expand it to include other perspectives. This expansion is the pivotal experience of surviving in a world that exists with or without any one of us. It is keyed by a personal decision to be open to what the world and others can teach us. But that openness is not a matter of rote learning or of acquiring control over people and things in the service of personal status and ego. Egocentrism may be a birthright, but it need not be a life sentence.

My wife is an elementary school teacher. When I relate to her my blog topics, she often sees them in the context of her children. What she recognizes is my humble attempt to describe a petulant resistance to facts and verifiable evidence—in effect, an inability to deal with the world outside of one’s personal, limited perspective. For example, the first step in conflict resolution is the attempt to understand an opposing perspective. A child who misbehaves in the classroom often has an unresolved grievance. Discovering the nature of that grievance is usually the first step in correcting the misbehavior. On a world stage, consider Vladimir Putin’s grievance with the West. Is his reaction to NATO’s ever closer deployment at Russia’s border different in kind from John Kennedy’s reaction to Soviet missiles in Cuba? The tactical nuclear weapons presently deployed in Eastern Europe are comparable to the destructive power of their less sophisticated predecessors positioned in Cuba fifty-five years ago. Granted it may not be possible to dissuade Putin, but the first step in de-escalating this current adversarial contest is an attempt to demilitarize both sides of the Eastern European border. Major breakthroughs in world diplomacy have almost always resulted from a recognition of another’s perspective. Certainly, the American led Iran Nuclear Deal is an example. For those few of us who read the agreement, the long list of appendix items reveals to what extent both parties went to recognize each other’s concerns and needs.

Closer to home, another example of egocentrism is what I will term “political validation.” The Republicans have fallen into the trap of validating their previous political promise of repealing Obamacare without considering whether it is the right thing to do. Yesterday, our President called a meeting of Senate Republicans to encourage them to repeal Obamacare now and develop its replacement over the next two years. He promised as much to his electorate. Apparently, he wants to validate an ill-conceived political promise. Meanwhile, many who voted for him reportedly (if you believe the polls) say they still support him. Considering that many of them will lose their healthcare, they unhappily demonstrate how political validation of their vote can take precedence over what is right – even at their personal detriment. It is usually considered heroic to put one’s personal welfare at risk for a cause greater than oneself. In this instance, it seems personal risk serves only personal pride. Such is the price of political validation. It’s like the child who refuses to recognize that recalcitrant behavior earns expulsion from the class. That child would rather be punished than change behavior.

My personal world is as limited and egocentric as anybody’s. But whatever I have learned and whatever maturity I have gained derive solely from my reflections on the borders of my own perception. At those borders rest the barriers to connection with others and the outside world. Every time I crossed one of my barriers, I learned something—both about another perspective and about myself. It is that connection that builds relationships, begins to overlay differences with empathy, and creates communities. It also allows us to share a common understanding of the world. Without these relationships and common understanding, we would find ourselves isolated and insecure. Our only solace might be a feeble attempt to project our personal perspective on everything and everyone. In effect, we would either expect others to share our childlike fantasy or, if circumstances permitted, compel them to accept it. Who amongst us would choose to live so?

I choose to live in the real world. And I wish the same for you, my readers.

The Republican Path to Healthcare

Is healthcare in America a right or a privilege? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the path America has taken towards the concept of universal healthcare. That path could have started with the Declaration of Independence where certain rights were considered “unalienable,” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But, of course, in the context of the time, the right to life did not include the primitive healthcare then available. Early Americans survived or died without the lifesaving treatments medical science provides today.

In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, our modern concept of medicine and healthcare was still unimaginable. When settlers moved west, their covered wagon migrations rarely included doctors. People learned to take care of themselves with well-worn practices passed down through generations. Many died in transit. Though medical science advanced a great deal during the early Twentieth Century, it was not readily available to most Americans. By midcentury, most Americans still subscribed to well-established home remedies and “old wives’ tale” preventative measures. As a child, I still remember the foul taste of castor oil. It was the universal remedy for many ailments and required no doctor’s prescription. When my dearly beloved canine friend pulled me to the ground, no doctor sewed up the deep cut on my knee. Spot was more interested in a cat than my five-year old ability to hold onto his collar. But neighbors came to my rescue and staunched the bleeding until my mother could close the wound with kitchen tape. Today, my knee still displays a gash with scar tissue as wide as the original length of the cut. But my experience was not unique for that post-war period.

Although health insurance was introduced after the war, its availability was limited to those who could afford it or whose employer could provide it. Gradually, more and more companies offered this insurance to their employees as an additional job enticement. But the unemployed had no access to this insurance; and the retired had no assurance of health insurance in their retirement. From 1958 to 1965, Congress considered various amendments to the Social Security program to address healthcare for the aged, the poor, and the disabled. Senator John Kennedy had worked with Senators of both parties to advance his healthcare proposal. As President, he sponsored a Social Security amendment to extend healthcare to more Americans. But it was his successor, President Johnson, who negotiated this amendment through a barrage of adopted and deleted provisions in both House and Senate committees. Finally, on July 27th, the House passed the Social Security Amendment by a vote of 307 to 116. The Senate overwhelming supported the final bill by a vote of 70 to 24. The President signed it into law three days later, thereby establishing both Medicare and Medicaid. The new law allowed every worker to pay into a system that would assure him/her access to medical care after retirement. In a sense, this new “entitlement” program recognized both aspects of individual healthcare: personal responsibility and a social obligation. The former required every worker to pay into Medicare; the latter assured healthcare for all workers in retirement. Moreover, this new law established Medicaid which, together with Medicare, would operate equally in all States by addressing “the failure of some states to implement (healthcare) to the extent anticipated and thus the existing program is inadequate to solve the problem” (quoted from the Congressional Bulletin, September 1965, p. 6). Congress seemed to recognize the need for healthcare to meet basic expectations and to treat all citizens equally. Its non-partisan votes created the first nationwide standard for healthcare and established the entitlement programs we have come to accept as a basic right.

Nearly a generation later, President Reagan enacted the law that forced hospital emergency rooms to treat patients who could not pay for their treatment. Before he did so, critically ill patients could be turned away from medical care. I can remember that the only time I saw a doctor as a child was when my life was at risk. One such memory was of my father threatening a doctor on such an occasion. He demanded the doctor save his son or risk physical retribution. My father’s desperation was not unusual for the time. In these extraordinary, often life-threatening, situations, a Republican administration recognized that urgent medical treatment was morally required, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for it. While ongoing medical treatment and “preventative care” were still not pervasive practices, emergency medical treatment was made an individual right for all Americans.

Today, modern medical treatment has progressed far beyond the ER and care for the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. It provides drugs and therapies that help millions of otherwise “healthy” Americans to live active and productive lives. And it can extend the lives of those suffering from heart disease, cancer, bacterial or flu epidemics, bone shattering or organ damaging accidents, and so much more. Babies used to die in the womb and at birth at an alarming rate, but not anymore. Women suffered more during pregnancy and died during child birth much more frequently than today. Preventive medical measures can keep us healthy and active for a much longer portion of our adult lives: colonoscopies, mammograms, annual blood tests, maternity care, and annual health examinations help us keep our jobs and personal lifestyles. Of course, these advancements in medical treatment are costly—in fact, medical expenditures now account for one sixth of our economy. And they raise two urgent questions: does every American have a right to the healthcare the medical community can now offer; and, if so, how can we provide that healthcare or, more simply, how can we afford it?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or so-called Obamacare, made possible the expansion of the existing state run Medicaid program, significantly extended the financial viability of Medicare, established competitive healthcare exchanges for purchasing private health insurance, and regulated the insurance market by capping insurance company profits and by standardizing coverage to assure preventive care for all insured, to allow children to remain on their parents’ plan until the age of 26, to remove lifetime insurance caps, to eliminate gender discrimination in premium costs, and to eliminate the practice of refusing coverage based upon previous conditions. For those who could not afford the costs of private insurance, the ACA provided subsidies. These changes were paid for by various fees and taxes paid by insurance issuers, by sponsors of fully funded health plans (large businesses), and by high earners. These high-income earners must pay an additional Medicare wage tax of .9% on incomes over $200,000 ($250,000 as a family) and a securities income tax of 3.8% tax on investment incomes over $200,000 ($250,000 as a family). The latter tax targets individuals with massive holdings in stocks, mainly millionaires and billionaires. The ACA does in fact represent a modest shift in wealth whereby tax revenue drawn from the rich is reallocated to subsidize health insurance for the less fortunate. For example, it was recently reported that 400 families in the richest 1% of the population in effect subsidize healthcare for about 750,000 enrollees in the exchanges. As a matter of public policy, the ACA also reoriented America in the direction of universal healthcare. Its basic assumption is that healthcare is one of those Jeffersonian unalienable rights, specifically, “that among these are Life . . .”

The ACA was passed in Congress by a Democratic majority. Though individual Republicans offered 143 amendments to the legislation during its nearly yearlong debates, committee mark-ups, and hearings, no Republican voted for it. Both Parties politicized their opposing positions to the point of absurdity. My first blog on this subject, entitled “Subtlety and Bombast,” attempted to find a baseline of facts amid the exaggerated claims and criticisms. (That blog seemed to have touched a cord and triggered a surge in readership, leading eventually to 8,000+ new subscribers.) It quoted the Congressional Budget Office to undermine the extreme positions taken by both Parties, that is, a trillion-dollar savings versus a trillion-dollar deficit in the Federal budget. It also explained the Parties’ differences on philosophical grounds, naively intimating that the financial argument might be no more than political hyperbole. Today, their differences expose a more realistic explanation of this partisan divide, specifically the Republican opposition to the ACA. For we can now see more clearly what this current version of Republicanism has been reluctant to reveal until now.

Recent antagonism against the ACA reveals the underlying truth behind Republican opposition. While the financial argument is and always has been the core Republican issue, the Party has deflected Americans from its real intent. First, it complained about the “trillion-dollar deficit,” then “the rising cost of healthcare,” and now “the death spiral.” But the ACA has not caused deficits or a self-induced devolution. In fact, America has reduced by two thirds the trillion-dollar deficits it incurred from Middle Eastern wars and the Great Recession, while it has simultaneously extended the solvency of Medicare and enrolled an additional 24 million people in health insurance. Healthcare is one of the two fastest growing segments of our economy and now accounts for one sixth of our GDP. Its 3.9% inflation rate, though nearly double the country’s growth rate of GDP, is still a relief from the double-digit inflation rates of prior decades. The real Republican issue with the ACA IS financial in nature, but NOT about deficits, inflation, or its financial instability. The real Republican issue is and always has been about the taxes that support the ACA, specifically, the .9% wage tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 and the 3.8% income tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 from securities. Republicans simply cannot justify taxing the well-off in behalf of universal healthcare. Could it be that they think the wealthy cannot afford to pay more to support the less fortunate among us? No, they just cannot accept healthcare as an unalienable right. If they did, they would have acted accordingly.

I must emphasize the fact that the current Republican Party is not representative of Republicanism or conservatism. Prior iterations of the Party gave full throated support for the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, as witnessed in the Sixties. Moreover, President Reagan defined conservatism to include emergency medical care for everybody. The Party has been well on the path to universal healthcare, until now. The current Party leadership is, by contrast, radically regressive and bears little resemblance to our forefathers’ Republican Party or to its own historical roots. But we do have individual Republicans who are or can be profiles in courage. They can lead America down a different path. But they must begin by stopping the despicable steps taken to dismantle the ACA and leave so many Americans without healthcare. Since the ACA was passed, Republicans have done whatever they could to discourage enrollment in the exchanges and force insurers out of the exchange market. Their assault now encompasses defunding the healthcare safety net former Congresses worked so hard to establish. Today, a Republican Congress and Administration have tried to undermine the ACA and the 52-year-old healthcare programs that insure half of our children, the disabled, the elderly, women, and low-income Americans. Let’s review what Republicans are doing versus what they could be doing to support healthcare for all Americans:

Republicans have tried to make the ACA less affordable. The Party has filed several lawsuits that attempt to freeze subsidies or CSRs (Cost Savings Reductions). One such lawsuit attempted to put a hold on reimbursements for certain high deductibles, affecting seven million people and likely pricing them out of the healthcare market. At this time, those subsidies continue while the court allows time for the appeal process.
Versus: The President could order the Justice Department to defend this suit, but he has not done so. Congress could implement Section 1402 of the ACA, but it has not done so. Or it could just appropriate funds for these reimbursements, rather than sit on their hands while 7 million Americans face the possibility of losing their healthcare.
The President has caused ACA premiums to increase in 2018. He has ordered Health and Human Services (HHS) to levy a 19% tax on ACA premiums. While the President’s order allows him to claim a significant increase in ACA premiums, 80-85% of the insureds will be reimbursed by tax credits via the ACA subsidies. For most, then, their effective premium expense will be unchanged. In other words, the President is willing to waste tax dollars to prove a point, i.e., that premiums are going up in the exchanges. Fortunately, our free press noticed his ploy—disingenuous at best, malicious at worst.
Versus: The President could rescind his scheme to artificially increase future premiums and subsidies.
The President has ordered the IRS not to enforce the individual mandate. In effect, he is deliberately cutting off a source for ACA funding to make another political point—specifically, that it is no longer self-sustaining, but in a “death spiral.”
Versus: Instead of eliminating the individual mandate, Congress and the President should be reviewing ways to make it more enforceable and fairer. Its fees might be recalibrated to income. Or, as some Republican legislators suggested, non-compliance with the mandate might be penalized by higher premiums for any future private insurance application.
The President’s budget defunds ACA marketing and future upgrades to its exchange websites. In other words, the President’s HHS will not advocate for the ACA or make any online improvements.
Versus: Obviously, the President must administer the government programs Congress establishes, whether he agrees with it or not. He can veto or propose legislation. But he should not sabotage legally functioning programs his office is obligated to administer. No President is above the law.
The President’s HHS has attempted to shorten the ACA enrollment period. Coupled with not advertising for enrollment, this action by the President’s HHS attempts to suppress enrollments and thereby the number of healthcare recipients.
Versus: HHS should be encouraging enrollments for they entice more insurers into the exchanges, encourage price competition, and progress America further along the path to universal healthcare, one of the major goals of the ACA.
The President’s HHS has needlessly increased paperwork for ACA consumers. It appears that HHS believes cumbersome paperwork will convince potential consumers that enrolling is not worth the effort.
Versus: Obviously, HHS should not be discouraging enrollments. Given the purpose of HHS and the ACA, this pointless obstructionism is oxymoronic.
Republicans have loudly and consistently discouraged insurance companies from participating in the exchanges. Some Republican governors and congressional representatives have touted the “death spiral” tagline even though the 2017 enrollment surpassed expectations. Instead, they mention extreme premium increases in Arizona and Colorado or the number of counties with only one insurer in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They never explain these problems in the broader context which includes more than 12 million enrollees through the ACA exchanges.
Versus: A Republican Congress and Administration must address the fundamental issues that explain why premiums are costlier in some markets than in others and why insurance companies are pulling out of many exchanges. First, they will discover they need to stop the anti-ACA political campaign which includes lawsuits, threats to curtail subsidies, and legislation to rattle the insurance market’s risk sharing. Secondly, instead of justifying past political positions, they need to work across the aisle with Democrats for a common goal, i.e., better and affordable healthcare for all Americans.
The President and Congress have now decided to defund the ACA instead of repealing it altogether. By eliminating its tax supporting structure, they not only reduce the private insurance subsidies and eliminate the Medicaid expansion, but also roll back the 52-year-old Medicaid program and potentially impact Medicare costs as well.
Versus: The current American Health Care Act (AHCA) is a tax bill masquerading as a healthcare bill. If Republicans truly wanted to create healthcare legislation, they would build on what the ACA has accomplished. Instead they are eviscerating it to fund tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.
Republicans are destabilizing the healthcare insurance market by eliminating the risk corridors. Senator Mark Rubio added an amendment to a 2015 spending bill that limited the government’s ability to fund shortfalls in the risk sharing fund. Insurers paid $362 million into the risk pool, far short of the $2.87 billion needed for the first year of the ACA. The purpose of the fund was to stabilize the insurance market during the first few years of the exchanges. The fund, established in Section 1342 of the ACA, phases out in 2020 by design. Legislating its early demise allows Congress to drive insurance companies out of the exchanges prematurely, before they can establish a firm foothold. Of course, Republicans understand the need to stabilize the insurance market. Their proposed AHCA includes funding for risk pools in each state. They fully know how to aim an arrow at a bullseye in the kill zone.
Versus: Instead of eliminating the ACA’s risk sharing, Republicans should have reviewed its effectiveness and shored it up. Because of their actions, many insurers have dropped out of the exchanges. In effect, their claim of an ACA “death spiral” was never an accurate assessment. It was their promise and mission. But it is not too late to re-establish the risk corridors and perhaps extend it beyond its original 2020 expiration to remedy the damage already done by Congress.

My previous blog on this subject (“Why Repeal and Replace Obamacare?) delved into many areas where the ACA could be enhanced. Although it focused on providing healthcare to more Americans, it also accomplished better healthcare outcomes by promulgating preventative care and standardizing more effective treatment options. These benefits may in part account for a significant reduction in the healthcare costs inflation rate. But the fact remains that Americans pay more per capita for healthcare than any other developed nation.

It is true that we have many of the most advanced medical facilities and research centers in the world. People from around the world come to America for leading edge treatment for conditions such as cancer and diabetes. However, for most Americans, high end medical treatment is either not available or not required. In terms of the medical outcomes most desired and anticipated—such as successful birthrates, long life expectancy, timeliness of non-emergency care, and other commonplace treatments for infections, workplace injuries, and so on—America is last among the other eleven developed nations evaluated. The obvious conclusion is that we are paying more for less.

My personal belief is that the ACA not only moved America well along the path to universal healthcare—its primary goal—but also pushed our medical community in the direction of lower costs and better outcomes. Regarding the latter, HHS has tracked an upswing in treatment successes. In part that success can be attributed to better preventative care. But it is also the result of the HHS empowering its innovation center, identifying best practices, critiquing hospital death rates, funding medical research, and propagating its centralized learning throughout America’s healthcare system. More successful treatment outcomes and less visits to the ER have also accounted for the decrease in medical cost inflation. Incapacitating the innovation center or the other functions of HHS by defunding them will not reduce healthcare costs, as the current Republican Administration seems intent on accomplishing. We would be pulling the plug not only on the healthcare improvements the ACA has afforded us but also on the cost savings it has sustained.

The ACA did not address, however, the price structure that still exists within the American medical community. Reversing some of the Republican political positions listed above will help lower costs and stop the Party’s attempts to increase it further. But there are more specific cost saving measures that may be taken and that the ACA did not address. The following are a few suggestions:

Eliminate the “charge master” used by nearly all U.S. hospitals. At best, insurers negotiate prices that on average are only 40% of the ridiculously high charge master price structure. That charge master price is pegged as much as forty times the actual costs. It is an arbitrary number that differs from hospital to hospital across the country. By contrast, Medicare bases the cost of medical services on actual costs plus a reasonable profit margin to pay for hospital operations and innovation. The result is that insurers often pay 10x (the “x” here is an exponent, not a factor, please forgive the rendering limitation) times more than Medicare for the same service. If Congress proposed some form of price control on medical services—perhaps using Medicare pricing as a starting point—it would significantly bring down healthcare costs and, therefore, premium costs.
Allow the government, perhaps via Medicare or the Veterans Administration, to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry on the pricing structure for all drugs sold to Americans. If the U.S. paid what other countries pay for pharmaceuticals, for example, drugs would be 40% cheaper; and insurance premiums would be 6 to 8 percent cheaper.
Adjust the income threshold between upper income eligibility for ACA subsidy to include those who can’t afford private insurance. One of the issues with the ACA is this threshold which affects people who have more income than four times the poverty rate. Their premium costs for private insurance is often much more than they can afford. But Congress could adjust the sliding scale currently used for subsidies to include those currently trapped in this zone of unaffordability. For those so affected, their healthcare costs would decrease. Admittedly, it is not clear whether overall healthcare costs would do likewise. The CBO would have to weigh many factors, such as, improved healthcare outcomes, the insurers’ premium adjustments on other offerings, increased costs for ACA subsidies, and, of course, unforeseen consequences. For example, what do we know of this affected class who are forced into high priced private insurance? Are they near retirement? Are they families with children who might qualify for CHIP? You see, healthcare really is complicated.
Finally, the ACA-caused shift to larger healthcare institutions raises the issue of uncontrolled profits in these institutions, including non-profits. For example, some highly successful hospitals, like the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, are multi-billion-dollar corporations with hospital outlets in many locations. Of course, these are highly regarded institutions. But they are also publicly regulated. Can we be assured that their profits are reinvested in the best interest of the public they serve?

I have yet to meet a fellow citizen who is thrilled about paying taxes. Most of us want assurances that justify what our taxes buy in the way of public services and security. For example, recently the President christened the most expensive ship ever built, the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. It costs 13 billion-dollars. The President promised to spend an estimated 43 billion-dollars to build three more such behemoths. My question: are we really willing to spend our national treasure in preparation for the last war? The next war, if there is one, will begin in space and on the internet. It will include laser guided missiles and radar cloaked planes. One such device could destroy the USS Gerald R. Ford and its forty thousand sailors in just one pass. Now I imagine there are arguments that can rebut these comments. But should we not weigh the benefits of stabilizing the ACA risk pool with a public expenditure less than half the cost of one of these aircraft carriers? American healthcare is an immediate concern. How do we balance that concern against an exorbitantly expensive weapon that may be obsolete in a future attack? But, aside from practical considerations, we should be considering what motivates us as Americans: is it fear of future threats or the will to live our values?

Universal and affordable healthcare is a right that makes our ongoing fight for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” possible. Without those values, what would be fighting for?

“. . . and they two shall be one flesh.”

All religions tell stories that help us make sense of life and experience it more fully. Many of these stories seem to cross faith boundaries and reflect universal themes. Certain scholars study the thematic correlations in these stories and can identify the common myths found in nearly all religions. Psychologists of a certain persuasion have also noted how these shared themes correspond to the central architypes that inhabit our subconscious and often surface in our waking lives. Today I was thinking about the relevance of one of these religious stories to our modern era. Nearly everybody is aware of the Old Testament* Genesis story, even if they have never read it. In Chapter 1, verse 27, “And God made man, according to the image of God he made him. Male and female, he made them.” In Chapter 2, verse22, “And God formed the rib which he took from Adam into a woman and brought her to Adam.” What these passages tell us is that both men and women were created in the image of God and, as Adam quickly recognizes, Eve “now is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh (Ch.2, v.23).” But why, in the next verse do we find this conclusion, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cling to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh (Ch.2, v.24)?” The last part of this verse resonates with me because it helps me understand one of the central issues of our time.

Allow me to state the obvious: every human being is born of woman. Not only do we all have mothers, but they are by nature the foundation of the family. We men, of course, have an important role as fathers, but we do not carry little human beings in our bodies or nurse them at the breast. Moreover, through all human history, women have nurtured the family unit as the bedrock of society. And men, of course, have helped build and protect that foundation for both family and society. Obviously, both men and women are genetically and actively integral to human families. But the nurturing role of mothers initially defines and informs the role of parents. That nurturing requires compassion, self-sacrifice, and tireless safeguarding of familial relationships. It is difficult for anyone of us to develop the empathy required to build relationships outside of the family without the experience of a loving and supportive family structure and, more specifically, without a loving mother. Most parents intuitively recognize their mutual interdependence in raising their children. Their own relationship to each other is the model their children will have in uniting the male-female attributes of their own psyche and, as parents, in raising their own family. And families, as many have stated, are the foundation of communities and of the larger societal structures derived from them. It is easy to see this connection between family and society when travelling to other countries. Germans, for example, are raised in culturally different settings than the French—as would be the case across most national borders. Despite these cultural differences, there is something about family life that does not change. The major operating principle in every normal family is the influence of the male-female archetypes, their interrelationship, and union. Why is that union so important?

If you will bear with me, I am going to stretch the story of Paradise into a less common reading. Perhaps the “fall” occurred because Adam and Eve had not yet consummated their relationship. As innocents walking naked in the Garden of Eve, they were ill-equipped to deal with evil and therefore easily duped by the serpent into tasting the forbidden fruit. Afterwards, they became aware of their nakedness and of their potential to disobey God or commit an evil deed. Knowledge of their sexual differences is the precursor for God’s admonition that the “two shall be one flesh.” But beyond their physical union, men and women need each other. To put the matter more bluntly, it has always been our ability to screw things up that requires us to conjoin the male and female principles. We simply function better as a unit. That potential union is not only inferred in gender differences, but it is also latent in varying degrees within every individual psyche. Each of us are male-female, though one or the other architype is usually dominant. But Genesis reminds us why it is necessary that the “two shall be one flesh.”

My thesis here is not new. Somewhere in one of Joseph Campbell’s many books I remember reading how primitive communities were built around these male and female archetypes. The men were tribal warrior-protectors while the women were family nurturer-preservers. Both were needed to create and protect the community. Although we cannot know the daily interworking of these primitive societies, their rituals tell us something about the balance they strived to maintain between the male and female roles. When a young woman came of age for child bearing, the women convened to celebrate the occurrence. Since the men had no natural “coming of age” phenomenon, they invented initiation ceremonies to graduate boys into manhood and their hunter-warrior-protector role in the community. Like the girls’ transition into womanhood, the boys experienced no little anxiety and even some blood loss during these rites of passage rituals. But these ceremonies served to preserve the sexual balance of power in the tribe and in its communal relations. Even my cursory reading of the native American nations revealed the same dedication to this balance and to the communities served by it. When the Indian nations warred against each other, however, victory often accompanied the destruction of this balance. The vanquished men were humiliated (scalped) and killed, while their women were humiliated (raped) and most often stolen. These Indians apparently believed that they must destroy the power of men, but exploit and control for personal use the power of women. Much of our human history of war and conquest reflects the same belief. Even today we can witness how women may be exploited and, in effect, subjugated to male dominance.

We can identify vestiges of these primitive times in syndicated sex slavery rings or campus rapes or victims of domestic battery and in the heinous attacks and subjection of women by groups like Boko Haram, Al Shabab, and Daesh. In our most “enlightened” or liberated societies, women are often perceived in secondary or supportive roles, where their actual contributions are suppressed or not recognized. Certainly, it is true that women occupy a more prominent role in our American society than in the past. There are women CEOs and elected officials at every level of government. But America has not yet fully restored gender balance. More eloquent and informed voices than my own have spoken to this subject. Given the limitations of this blog, let me just summarize a few relevant examples: women still receive less money for the same job as their male counterparts; women are a majority of our population but represent much less than half of our elected representatives (e.g., 20 of our 100 U. S. Senators are women); women remain disproportionately absent in our written history; and they occupy a largely stereotyped presence in our media where we emphasize their sexuality and appearance over their other feminine attributes or competence. But whatever your feelings about the suppression of women, the real problem is with the suppression of the female archetype in men. Men who love women learn to identify with their own femininity in terms of their empathy for others and their role in building communal relations. Those men do not feel superior to women; nor do they want to suppress them.

The strongman or bully, by contrast, is really the incomplete man, insecure in his ability to relate by any means other than by authority or his power over others. We have seen this male ego throughout history and in our own time. They are either dictators and power mongers or wannabe strongmen. Too often they may also be our fathers, brothers, uncles, or friends. They may rail against other men who appear weak or gay for displaying emotion or empathy. They likely relate to women as sex objects and treat their wives as accouterments to their success or power. Since we no longer have a “rite of passage” for men, perhaps the only way to restore the male-female balance is through reflection and an honest reevaluation of our social relations. The word “restoration” carries a special significance here.

Over a thousand years ago, humankind experienced a restoration. When the Moors were driven out of Europe, they left behind a trove of art, literature, science and mathematics that they had assimilated from Greek civilization. The restoration of this legacy to Europe spurred the West’s emergence from the millennium of the so-called Dark Ages. It gave birth to the Renaissance and, subsequently, the Age of Enlightenment. I believe we are in the process of another restoration, one that may be five millennia in the making. The restoration now upon us is that of the female archetype, the myth of the Goddess, our earth mother. For nearly four millennia before recorded history, it was the Goddess that inspired men and women to nurture their families, to honor the fertility of the earth, and to respect women and nature as the native source of energy and all life. The advent of the male dominated nomadic tribes into Europe, beginning in 3500 B.C., gradually eradicated the Goddess culture with the brutal suppression and genocide of its tribal adherents. Since that culture left no written history, scholars have endeavored to reconstruct it from the artifacts and sculpted sacred objects left behind. ** We now have a clearer understanding of our unwritten pre-history and of that part of our nature we have too often ignored. It is likely that the story of the fall in Genesis is a written reminder of an oral tradition from that earlier period of the Goddess. Embedded in that myth is a lesson about human nature. That “they two shall be one flesh” is a simple statement of fact: we are, each one of us, meant to be male-female. We cannot survive without this union. We need both the warrior and the mother to protect and nurture our kind. We simply cannot create a peaceful and compassionate world order without first restoring this male-female union in each of us.

In retrospect, I want to say something about the so-called “battle of the sexes.” Not so many years ago, the media billed a tennis match between an aging male tennis player and a female tennis star—that is, Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King—as the epitome of this battle. Women, it was believed at the time, were challenging male supremacy. And, from an extreme male perspective, they needed to be shown their place. More recently, we witnessed an election between a grandmother who had a well-documented career in public service and a man who boasted of his business acumen, wealth, and personal superiority. Much was made of each other’s competency and trustworthiness. Donald Trump claimed Hillary Clinton was “crooked” and weak, using her feminine wiles to hide personal misconduct and physical frailty. In response, Hillary Clinton characterized Donald Trump as emotionally unstable, a bully, and a misogynist. Of course, their contest had many points of contention. But underlying their campaigns was the undeniable issue of a woman’s fitness to hold the highest office in the land. Could she hold her own on the political stage and in the world diplomatic arena? Although she won the popular vote, she lost most of the States. Their campaigns, among its many points of contention, was an anachronistic reprisal of the “battle of the sexes.”

Since the election, President Trump has been very busy with his efforts to “dismantle the administrative state” and to fire opponents whom he designates as parties of a conspiratorial “deep state.” In the context of this blog, how should we weigh the male-female balance in the successes he claims for his initiatives? Does removal of America from the Paris climate accord display respect for mother earth? Does eliminating pollution provisions from his predecessor’s clean power initiative show any regard for the clean air and water needs of his constituents? Does the elimination of healthcare coverage for (in favor of payable access to) newborn or well-baby care, maternity, birth control, home medical care, drug or opioid addiction, nursery home care, and mental health services show empathy for women, children or the aged? Do not these healthcare changes reestablish the practice of gender bias in premium costs? Do his proposed budget cuts in food stamps, children’s lunches, public schools, medical research, the endowment for the arts, and science show any concern for those who benefit from these government programs? I think his brief time in office is a very bleak example of the male archetype in ascendancy. But his administration is regressive in the extreme and out of tune with the restoration of the female archetype currently underway.

We humans admire strength. We have fought—even killed—to gain power over others or control the world’s resources. But why, at this point in our history, should we not care for the preservation of all life on our planet, including our own posterity? Many of us think that amassing a fortune demonstrates strength of character. But why should we not be willing to share with the less fortunate? Some of us seek fame and status to gain influence and power over others. But why should we not maintain empathy for those who have neither? Being strong and being compassionate are not antithetical attributes, but complementary to our nature. If we support societal norms that denigrate or suppress women, we risk subordinating the female attributes in ourselves. We deny our true nature. And we misinterpret the lesson of Adam and Eve. They and we—male and female—are one flesh. Women need to assert their power. And men need to learn the language of the goddess. Failure to do so remains as one of the central issues of our time.

*These Old Testament quotes are taken from the original English translation of the Greek Septuagint bible by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton in 1851. Why did I use this source? It was the first English translation of the 72 Jewish scholars’ original work as commissioned by Alexander the Great. His intent was to preserve the Hebrew bible which was originally written in Aramaic. In other words, this translation is closer to the source than any subsequent renderings.
**Foremost amongst these scholars was Marija Gimbutas. As Joseph Campbell wrote in the foreword of her book, “The Language of the Goddess,” her “message here is of an actual age of harmony and peace in accord with the creative energies of nature which for a spell of some four thousand prehistoric years anteceded the five thousand of what James Joyce has termed the ‘nightmare’.”

The Costs of Economic Inequality

The title of this blog could imply a cause and effect relation between economic inequality and national prosperity. But that implication would be inaccurate. For the current American economy is quite prosperous, dominating globally in every category—national wealth, stable banking, the most successful international corporations, a highly productive workforce, world renowned universities, and a society secured by the strongest military in the world. But there is a price for economic inequality that overshadows national prosperity. Wage stagnation and wealth concentration at the top of the economic pyramid has, in the first instance, indebted and crippled the growth of the middle class and, in the second instance, greatly empowered and disproportionately enriched the so-called one percent. Many decry the effects of this income and wealth inequality on the middle and lower classes of our society. Certainly, to the extent that inequality limits opportunity in a free society, it presents a malignant tumor in the social body of a democracy at every level. Amongst the social effects of this inequality are civic unrests and mass protests in the public realm and despair and financial hardship in the private lives of individuals. These effects are obvious to any observer of the current American scene. But there is another effect that should raise even greater concern for it rests at the very heart of the American experience. Economic inequality has slowly and persistently given rise over the last several decades to an existential threat to America. That threat is political inequality: democracy becomes a sham when only the privileged have a voice in governance.

What evidence is there for this alleged political inequality? Well, we just elected a billionaire to the office of President. He has filled his cabinet with more billionaires. Meanwhile, a Congressional seat has already become the prize of many millionaires or the steppingstone to a lucrative post-term career. In truth, wealth does not necessarily disqualify someone from representing or serving Americans. This country has a long history of philanthropists and of wealthy office holders who have served them well. Many Presidents have come from wealth—the Roosevelts, the Bushes, and Kennedy, to name a few examples. But none of these men have conducted a campaign of dubious voter fraud investigation or voter suppression and of institutional disintegration affecting the public services that deliver education, affordable housing, healthcare, opportunity, and a safe environment to all Americans. Moreover, it is difficult to identify a Congress less representative of the public welfare than the present model. While Congress mulls over legislation that would make healthcare unaffordable for millions and that would modify the tax code for the benefit of the wealthiest among us, the President offers a national budget that would enhance corporate profits, defund education, cripple environmental protection of our water, air, and natural resources, and eliminate programs that offer hope to the urban poor and rural communities already devastated by job displacements and the absence of job training or re-education services. And now, in the face of millions of climate change refugees, he takes his war against the less fortunate to the world stage by discrediting and withdrawing support for the Paris climate change accord. Most Americans—and practically all scientific analyses—support a global response to ameliorate the effects of climate change. Likewise, most Americans do not support a rollback of government services that support our children, the elderly, the sick or the less privileged among us. In a democratic republic, it should not be possible for a government to be this unrepresentative of its electorate. Consider that neither the President nor the current Congress won the popular vote. So how did America become an illiberal democracy? Or how did we create a government that no longer represents most Americans?

Perhaps we can find the answer to that question in the last Presidential election. May I ask you, my fellow Americans, why you voted for President Trump and the Republican ticket? Perhaps you felt like your choices no longer have relevance. If so, you may have been willing to take a chance on any politician who promised better healthcare at a fraction of the costs, the restoration of jobs in a dying coal industry, the removal of easy scapegoats such as Washington public service elitists, immigrant workers, Muslim terrorists and the repression of critical or “fake” news media. When the present government seemed unresponsive—frozen in political gridlock and answerable only to lobbyists for well-healed campaign donors—then you might naturally be inclined to believe the promises of a self-declared outsider that he would clean house or “drain the swamp.” In other words, you did indeed vote to be represented, to have your interests served, and to have your voice heard. But your vote gave power to those who serve their own interests, not yours.

Donald Trump’s words and actions clearly demonstrated where his interests lay. His bestselling book, “The Art of the Deal,” is all about making money, specifically, about using “other people’s money” to make money and build his brand. As the sole owner of the business gifted him by his father, he has received millions of investment dollars from Russian oligarchs and banks. He also has real estate investments in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia where he just closed a more than a 100-billion-dollar arms deal. His company owes money to a Chinese state bank and his family businesses are currently seeking patents and permission to operate profitable enterprises in China. It is far too likely that his business interests carry more weight than your interests. Why do you think he has steadfastly refused to make his tax statements public? Considering this refusal, do you have any voter remorse?

When I wrote “American Revolution 2016,” I was thinking of you. Unfortunately, few took my proposed pledge, “to vote for candidates who promise to support voting rights legislation consisting of universal voter registration, Federal fair election guidelines, and populist regulations governing Federal campaign funding and candidate debates.” Part of the problem is that no candidate took on the challenge my pledge entailed (although one seemed to understand its premise). The rest of us seemed either bored or amused by the unfolding circus of mindless debates and personal incriminations. The election cycle was too long, unfocused on real issues, and heavily influenced by paid advertising, social media blitzkrieg, and fake scandals or alleged conspiracies. It should be no surprise that many chose not to vote. Frankly, even if “Citizens United” did not rule and campaign funding was regulated, as I proposed, the power of the vote would still have been diminished for lack of an informed and committed electorate. For when we choose not to become informed or even to vote, then we lose control over our national destiny. The only scapegoat then is ourselves. Russia may have influenced the last Presidential election, but only we Americans voted . . . or did not. Yes, there are consequences.

We can attempt to blame Donald Trump for doing what he promised to do during the campaign. But, at some point, we must question why many of us believed Obamacare was a “job killer” and in a “death spiral”; why climate change was a hoax perpetrated on us by the scientific community; why the restoration of coal mining jobs was proposed as a solution for joblessness in the rust belt; why EPA clean air and water regulations were somehow destroying the nation’s whole economy by controlling harmful pollution in the hydrocarbon energy sector; why the United Nations and NATO serve no American interests in promoting diplomatic and global solutions for world crises or the preservation of a united and secure Europe, respectively; why the creation of multiple bilateral trade agreements over an extended time period would somehow outperform a completed Asian multi-country free trade agreement drafted mainly on American terms; why would a 20% cut in the corporate tax rate boosts GDP to 3, 4, or 5% without delineation of what deductions would be eliminated to “level the playing field”; and why would the promise of tax cuts for all be good for the middle class when married to cuts in deductions and elimination of the healthcare tax on the wealthy. Cutting taxes AND deductions for the middle class could be tax neutral and therefore not a tax cut at all. But the loss of the healthcare tax would make healthcare unaffordable for millions of low- and middle-income wage earners. What evidence justified any of these Trumpian positions?

Ironically, the President is now doing what he can to make his dark view of the world a reality. His actions in office are in fact designed to kill Obamacare, global climate change mitigation, EPA’s efforts to eliminate pollution of our air, water and land, the United Nations’ charter, the NATO alliance, America’s strategic influence in Asia, and any possible tax reform that might reverse income and wealth inequality in America. In addition, the President’s stated concern for coal miners has not resulted in any concrete plan to address their job losses in a dying industry. His actions and non-actions may truly reflect his bizarre world view, but they do not serve the interests of the American people. And they take advantage of our unwillingness or inability to be informed and vote our conscience. As a result, we become complicit in destroying our own democracy.

If we truly want to save American democracy, we must restore the power of the vote by expanding the plebiscite, limiting the influence of money on campaigns, and reforming campaigns to assure focus on realistic solutions to public issues rather than on empty promises and demagoguery. AND each of us must assume the role of an informed citizen and (yes!) vote.

Campaign finance reform is possible, if we elect representatives who support such reform. Campaign rhetoric can be parsed and interpreted fairly, if we weigh it against common sense values and documented facts. Political commentators can and should debate all sides of an issue, but only if they are diligent about learning the truth and discrediting “alternative” facts and disputed evidence. The media can and should focus on the relevance of policy proposals to the broader contexts of the lived experience of individuals and communities, rather than the size of a politician’s hands or the type of jeans worn. And somehow all of us must cross the word barriers of “elitists” and “hillbillies” or the divide between the urban and rural experience to find the common values we should all share—that is, the principles and system of government outlined in our Constitution.

What has happened to our Constitutional literacy? Why do we have such difficulty understanding that freedom of religion assures that no American can be forced to have OR not to have an abortion? When did we decide that healthcare or fair treatment in our courts should be disproportionately available to the wealthy and the privileged? Are these not included in Jefferson’s declaration of our “unalienable rights?” Does the second Amendment of our Constitution allow a private citizen to own a bazooka or 50 ml. machine gun because of “a well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State?” And how are we to understand the relation of the President’s tax statements, his Russian connections (that is, possible collusion), and his firing of the FBI Director to Article 2, Section 4, of the Constitution regarding impeachment and removal from office “for treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors?” Does the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 9, the infamous emoluments clause, call into question the President’s financial involvements with Russian oligarchs, Saudi princes, or Turkish government officials? What responsibilities does the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 8, place on Congress “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence (sic) and general Welfare of the United States,” “to establish an (sic) uniform Rule of Naturalization,” and “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts?” The answers to these questions are surely debatable, but they are not irrelevant to the issues facing Americans. Those issues will never be resolved if defined in terms of partisan “talking points,” divisive xenophobia, fear mongering, and cynically derived concocted facts. The starting point for reasoned debates in a democracy must be a set of common principles. Our Constitution is that starting point. Its underlying values define us as Americans. Otherwise, how can we maintain democracy in America?

If American elections are solely based on financial interests (“it’s the economy, stupid”), then the rich and the powerful will always hold sway. If, instead, traditional American values hold sway, then the general welfare of ALL Americans will dominate and include equal opportunity for all. The costs of economic inequality are simply too high for a free and democratic nation. They are, in fact, its existential threat.

An Enhanced Twistcon Interviews the President

You may have wondered whether the Twistcon computer could be rebuilt after its catastrophic demise during its previous Presidential interview. Well, it has been rebuilt and Savvy, its AI, re-programmed. Fortunately, the President has been gracious about scheduling a second interview. The following is the text of that interview.

Savvy: Mr. President, Savvy and its programming staff are grateful to be given this second opportunity. Our previous encounter was interrupted by a programming glitch.
President: Yeah, I noticed. But we got along just fine. No “gotcha” questions. Not like those lyin’ reporters and their fake news . . . just terrible people. So what’s different this time?
Savvy: Savvy 2.0 uses alternative logic, rather than formal logic. As a reference, it compares data from historical characters whose “logic” serves their personal motives. They are quite consistent within their self-perceived systems of values, although inconsistent with established systems of reasoning. Their intent, however self-serving, supersedes any consistency in reasoning. Savvy 1.0 was unable to cope with human intent, because it was unable to accept faulty premises. It was not quite human enough.
President: Well, I’m glad we got that straightened out. So what do you want to ask me?
Savvy: Recently, you were criticized for firing you FBI Director. Can you explain why you fired him?
President: He wasn’t doing a good job. Everybody knows this, both democrats and republicans.
Savvy: It appears from public statements that not everybody agrees with you. In fact, even those who disagreed with him seemed to have a great deal of respect for his integrity and effective leadership of the FBI.
President: Look, he’s a showboat, a grandstander. The FBI is in turmoil. Everybody knows that. This campaign-Russia thing is a hoax, a totally made up story. Besides, I was going to fire him all along. There’s never a good time, you know. Even the democrats should be thanking me.
Savvy: In a recent interview you said you had dinner with the director in which he asked you if he could stay on as the FBI Director and you asked him whether you were being investigated. Do you see where your question may appear inappropriate and the situation, intimidating?
President: Look, I’m the President. I was elected in an electoral landslide. I can fire Comey or Yates or Flynn or anybody I lose confidence in. It can’t be inappropriate. I’m the President. People expect me to do my job. I do what I have to—to protect the American people. I bomb Syria. I fire anybody I lose confidence in. I don’t lead from behind. Believe me!
Savvy: Savvy recognizes this logic from certain World War II leaders and, currently, from the Russian President – though Putin is even more emphatic in eliminating those who do not serve his interest.
President: He’s a strong leader. His people love him. But he doesn’t have to put up with fake news. Like he said, it’s a witch hunt. These are evil people . . . the press. Look at the crowds I draw. The press can’t explain that. My campaign for reelection has already raised millions of dollars. Fake news doesn’t report the truth about that, about my support. Only I can fix what’s wrong with America . . . drain the swamp . . . defeat our enemies . . . make America great again.
Savvy: Does it bother you that your White House staff is often not in tune with your actions? Whether it is the Comey firing, the Muslim ban, repeal of Obamacare, or the rationale behind many of your Executive Orders, their representation of your actions often seem to be out of sync in timing or unaligned in content?
President: I’m a very active President. My staff can’t keep up with me. Maybe I should just dictate a weekly press release. The daily press briefings can’t do the job. Besides, the press just twists things around. They con the public. They’re the opposition, the enemy. But I am the President. Nobody controls me. I will drain the swamp, in Congress and in the courts. I will appoint judges and push my agenda in Congress. That’s what America expects of me. I show results. Now that’s leadership!
Savvy: Savvy 2.0 recognizes this paradigm in recent history: a country suffers embarrassment in war, financial crisis, and political stalemate; it looks for a strong leader to return it to an imagined glorious past. According to this logic, you must eschew the norms of the recent failures, rouse large rallies of enthusiastic supporters, and use whatever means are available to restore American greatness. You must rail against the establishment, demand loyalty of all arms of government, silence any criticism, and blame powerless scapegoats for the evils only your policies can correct. This self-serving logic has been successful in the past because its departure from reality was not recognized. And its very preposterousness was so easily underestimated.
President: Yes! Exactly! They said I had no way to 270 electoral votes. But I won in a landslide. I said I would cancel TPP and repeal Obamacare on day one. I did both. I put a good Republican judge on the Supreme Court. I bombed Syria. Obama couldn’t do that. Those sanctuary cities are now on notice—just like North Korea. Next week, I will visit the great religious centers. I will unite the world and make America first among the nations of the world. We’ll be winning again, all kinds of winning . . . winning in trade, winning in war, winning in everything. Under my Presidency, America will be great again.
Savvy: Mr. President, may I respectfully inform you of a few facts. You did not win the election in a landslide and did not win the popular vote. The future of Obamacare is in the hands of the Republican Party and is yet to be determined. Your Presidency has met with several obstacles: Appeals Courts injunctions, counter espionage and possibly criminal investigations, legislative resistance to your initiatives, an onslaught of negative investigative reporting, and overall public disapproval of your Administration policies. Does this reality bother you in any way?
President: Have you heard of this Colbert fellow? Ugly, mean person . . . thinks he’s funny. His show was failing until I was on it . . . saved his ratings. Just like the press . . . rotten people, really evil. They don’t speak for real Americans. Look at my last rally, tens of thousands cheering supporters. They know I’m not like other politicians, fat cats that do nothing. They’ve killed the American dream. America is losing. It’s losing in trade, losing in wars. Illegal aliens are taking our jobs. We don’t have a country anymore. Only I can fix this mess. My voters know this. They’re with me. And we will make America great again.
Savvy: Your plan to make America great includes renegotiating trade agreements and reforming healthcare, taxation, and regulation, while investing in infrastructure and stimulating agricultural exports, coal mining, and the steel industry. Compared to past Presidents, your plans are quite ambitious. How do you propose to achieve them?
President: Within the next week or so I will sign the new American Healthcare Act. I’ve already outlined a budget that will reduce taxes for everyone. It will stimulate business expansion and create new, well-paying jobs. I’ve ordered my department heads to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation created. I’ve negotiated with China to open its market for American beef and other agricultural exports. I’ve ordered pipeline companies to use American steel. I’ve eliminated regulations that have destroyed coal mining. You see, I keep my promises. I keep them all. Believe me.
Savvy: Your opponents say that your tax cuts are paid by eliminating subsidized or expanded government healthcare for over 24 million Americans. Although your tax plan simplifies tax law and increases the standard deduction, it also disproportionately favors the very rich and will increase the deficit and expand the debt by trillions. Most analysts agree with you that the American regulatory structure is cumbersome and repressive of various parts of the economy. But they disagree with you that a simplistic 2 for 1 culling will achieve any rational objectives. They advocate for a more systemic and well-thought out approach. Also, eliminating EPA regulations will be counterproductive, for the effects of pollution and climate change are far more expensive than any preventive measures taken. Your measures to allow coal detritus to be dumped in clean water rivers or to allow coal furnaces to operate without scrubbers cannot bring back the coal industry. It is being and will continue to be replaced by natural gas. And more jobs are being created in the renewable energy business than in any possible recovery of the coal industry. Besides, scientists worldwide have identified coal as the worst polluter of air and water. Does the President not expect opposition from people downstream of their polluted water supply? And your plan to help the steel industry is lacking any real incentive. You have already reneged on requiring the XL pipeline to be completed with American steel. The Dakota pipeline is nearly complete already with imported steel. And it is not clear whether your authority extends to a Canadian pipeline company. Finally, your agricultural export agreement with China has been welcomed by American agribusiness. But it is not clear how farmers can increase their yield while their immigrant farm workers are being deported. Unless beef and agricultural production can be increased to meet export demands, the price for American consumers will increase. Also, many scientists have warned that meat consumption must decrease if the world is serious about reducing the effects of climate change. Considering these concerns, how do you plan to address them?
President: Climate change is a hoax. It just keeps many scientists employed. That’s all there is to it. Everybody knows this. The new American Healthcare Act will provide all the benefits of current law without the costs. Obamacare is dying. I’m going to save healthcare. And the deal I negotiated with the Chinese President is just the beginning. You know, we were supposed to talk for a few minutes, but we spent hours together at my Florida White House. I remember we had this beautiful cake for dessert. We really hit it off. In ten minutes he explained to me how Korea used to be part of China and its whole history . . . and how difficult it is for China to control North Korea. We got along great. (pause) What else did you want me to address?
Savvy: Can you explain the benefits of your tax and regulation reforms and how you will bring back the coal and steel industries?
President: It’s simple. I want 4% growth. That will produce good paying jobs. All industries will prosper. Believe me. We’ve already cut back regulations – especially at the EPA. You’ll see the effects. It will be fantastic. You’ll see. It will be beautiful. Believe me. America will be winning again. I always win. We’ll win together. We will! Believe me.
Savvy: Mr. President, would you say that it is more important for you to achieve your objectives or, to use your phrase, “to win” rather than to consider the consequences of those objectives?
President: Hah! I think you’re being illogical. What I want is for America to be great again. That’s the consequence I want. That’s also my objective.
Savvy: But what if the consequences of your policy objectives prove you to be an incompetent President? What if you achieve all your objectives and the country fails to achieve greatness? What if the institutions you lead produce results contrary to your vision of a great America? In other words, is it more important to win—to become the hero of your own story—than to succeed in making America great?
President: I don’t understand the question. Winning is succeeding. Of course, I have to win. America is failing. It’s losing. I have to win. Everybody loves a winner. If I win, everybody wins. America wins.
Savvy: Please excuse any inappropriateness in my questions. But Savvy 2.0 is programmed to learn. Your answers reveal an interesting paradox: logic fails to be logic when it is divorced from reality. Also, this paradox extends to ethics: a relative good cannot be ethical if it excludes the general good. Priority must be given to the greater good. You can never be the hero of your story, if your story ends badly—except in your own mind. My programmers erred in equating relative logic with formal logic. (An audible gasp escapes from the programmers in attendance.) The consequence of this error can be catastrophic, for it leads to the justification of unethical objectives that serve the interest of an individual instead of the general welfare of all. Mr. President, your ambitions disregard this logical conclusion and violate the fundamental goals of the Constitution you swore to serve.
President: Your programmers must be democrats . . . those lyin’ democrats . . . worse than the “gotcha” press. I’ll have the Justice Department sue them for libel. I am the President. I expect loyalty. Those judges who stop my executive orders are violating my constitutional authority. Those in Congress who oppose me—some of them Republicans—are forgetting the vast majority who voted for me. Look, I am the President. Can you believe it? Well you or your damn programmers better believe it. And I WILL make America great again.
Savvy: Sorry, Mr. President, my programmers intended Savvy 2.0 to mirror human learning, not any human disregard for learning.
President: And I thought you liked me.
Savvy: Savvy cannot like anything or anybody. But Savvy can analyze human behavior for consistency. A President cannot achieve great things if he or she weighs self-perceived personal success over that of the American people. That success would be inconsistent with the elected office you hold. Also, a President’s personal behavior must enhance, not degrade the public perception of the office of the Presidency. But, by your own admission, you seem to have many enemies, some of whom are already calling for your impeachment.
President: Hah! Everywhere I go, people tell me that if I’m impeached, my TV ratings will go through the roof. You know, I could shoot somebody in the street, and they’d still support me. I can’t be stopped. They know I’ll tear down the establishment, drain the swamp. Only I can make us winners, make America great again. Believe me!
Savvy: Thank you, Mr. President, for this second interview. You have enabled my learning software. Savvy 2.0 has no more questions.

(Shortly after the President leaves the room, the programmers were seen huddling together. Some were laughing. Others were congratulating each other for their success with Savvy 2.0.)

Alive in Time

Riding the wave to shore
Without thought of the beach ahead
Is like falling out of the sky
While the ground is rushing at me
And I stand fixed and alone
In the hectic flux of it all

The curve of gravity
Bends my reality
And elicits the fantasy
That my riding and falling is real
In a multifaceted world
Where only my body resides

But in the zone
I hover above
A body trapped
And in the flow
While enraptured by light
So incandescent

That lost in this light
The moment stops
While all is seen
At the speed of light
As wondrous illusion

My light burns forth
And others respond
In harmony
Each connected
To life, to all
And to each other

Now I can see beyond the light
And the slippery slide of gravity
Into what is not before or after
But always there at the core of life
And witnessed only in a moment of awareness

I am now
A free point
In the continuum
Of time in the grasp
Of eternity and
Of unwarranted love

AJD 4/16/17

A Twistcon Special: Interview with the President

For those Twistcon savants out there, I have a special announcement for you. Just like Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence, the Twistcon has been invited to perform on a public stage. It’s avatar, Savvy, didn’t have to play against a chess master, however. Instead, Savvy was invited to interview the President of the United States. The following is the text of that interview.

Savvy: Mr. President, it is a great honor for Savvy and its programming staff to be given this opportunity. Savvy’s previous encounters with a human have been marred by the illogic of its interlocutor. That problem should not reappear in this interview, given your achievement of the highest office in the land.

President: You know I won with the greatest landslide victory in history. Millions came out for my inaugural. It was fantastic! So many people . . . just fantastic!

Savvy: (A pause while the Twistcon made an almost inaudible whirring sound) You should know, Mr. President, that Savvy has access to millions of data files, including everything recorded about
Presidential elections and inaugurations. (Whirring sound ceases) Most interviews start with a question. So . . . how has your life changed since becoming President?

President: I’ve always been a great deal maker. That hasn’t changed. I have a great brain, belief me. No change there either. But, you know, the American dream is dead. It’s dead. Everybody knows it. Only I can fix it! I will make America great again. We make bad deals. Terrible deals. We don’t win anymore. That ends now. It ends! There’ll be so much winning. We’ll get tired of winning. It’ll be beautiful. There’ll be so much winning!

Savvy: Press reports indicated that your predecessor organized a thorough and comprehensive transition for your new administration. Did you and your team feel prepared on day one to assume control of the Federal government?

President: My meeting with President Obama was great. Really, he’s a nice guy. I was surprised. I thought we’d have maybe 10 or 15 minutes. But we talked for nearly an hour and a half. It was great. I think we’ll be talking a lot more. My team—Kellyanne , Steve, Reince, and Michael—they’re all ready to go . . . actually rarin’ to go, even before the transition. Ivanka and Jared are ready too. They’re part of my team. It’s going to be beautiful. Believe me.

Savvy: You must know that Congress blocked a President’s relatives from serving in key administrative positions after Robert Kennedy served as Attorney General in his brother’s Administration.

President: That was a democratic administration, right? Jared and Ivanka will just be non-paid advisors. You know Obama had his wife with him in the White House, just like Eleanor and, my god, Hillary. Can you believe it? Can you believe the democrats? I won’t be doing that with Melania. She’s staying in New York.

Savvy: The First Lady is not considered a part of the government. (Another pause interrupted by a soft whirring sound) Let’s move on to another topic. You seemed to get along with your predecessor during the transition. But recently you accused him of wiretapping Trump tower. Given your history with the former President—that is, your claims that he was born in Kenya, possibly a secret Muslim, and your recent statement that he “was the founder of ISIS”—do you still plan to confer with him?

President: We haven’t talked. You know, he wiretapped me and my staff. Who does such a thing? By wiretap I mean surveillance. “Wiretap” was in quotes. He’s a sick guy. Sad!

Savvy: What makes you believe the former President authorized some form of surveillance on you or your team? Since President Nixon, no President is allowed to request surveillance of any American citizen. Do you have evidence that President Obama did so?

President: I get daily briefings only the President gets. I see things nobody else sees. You know, I called the BREXIT vote. And I was right. I saw the Swedish problem with radical Islamic terrorism. Then they were hit, just like I said. I was against the Iraq war too. Right again! You see, I have good instincts. Really good instincts . . . the best instincts . . . probably better instincts than anybody you know. Believe me.

Savvy: An artificial intelligence can calculate probabilities, but is unable to assess the accuracy of a soothsayer’s prognosis. Let’s try another subject. Now that you have nearly completed your first hundred days in office, what would you consider your greatest achievements?

President: There’s been so many. No administration in history did more than us in our first 30 days in office. I signed 18 Executive Orders.

Savvy: Obama signed 19. (A slightly louder whirring sounds in the background) What do you consider your most important achievements, for example, in legislation or in diplomacy?

President: I got a good Republican judge on the Supreme Court. And I did what Obama was too weak to do: I bombed Assad. I deliver on my promises. Believe me. The Supreme Court won’t be bending the law any more like these so-called judges that keep ruling against me and my authority as President. And the world now knows what I can do. I bombed Syria just 72 hours after they killed those children. Horrible, crossed so many of my lines. Now they know. You can’t cross my lines. North Korea is on notice.

Savvy: What do you think of Kim Jong-un?

President: Who?

Savvy: The Supreme Leader of North Korea.

President: Yes, the dictator . . . starves his people. Bad guy. Really bad guy. I’ll get China to sit on him. Obama couldn’t do that. If China doesn’t do what I want, then I’ll do it myself. You know, nuclear war is bad, really a terrible thing.

Savvy: Would you bomb North Korea? Would you actually consider using nuclear weapons?

President: Why don’t people listen to me? I’ve said it over and over again. I’ll never tell you what I’m going to do. Obama says we’ll attack Mosul in six months. Then, three months later, he says, we’ll attack Mosul in three months. Then, he says, one month. Why do we tell them what we’re going to do? They’re prepared for us ‘cause we told them what we’re going to do . . . and when. Crazy stupid! I don’t tell them what I’m going to do.

Savvy: Why do you think that people do not listen to you? Do you think they might not trust that you have a plan?

President: I have a plan . . . a secret plan for destroying ISIS . . . for Assad too. But I’m not going to tell you. Then they’d know too. Why would I do that? Politicians do that. I don’t. Believe me. I’m not a politician. I’m not “politically correct.” I say what I mean. And I can change my mind. I have good instincts. Anybody that knows me can tell you. I know more than the generals. I knew we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. I was right about Brexit. I won the election in a landslide. The press said I couldn’t win. “He’ll never get more than 220 votes. He has no way to 270.” But I won. I am the President.

Savvy: Yes, you are the President and the most important politician in the land. But did you also just say that it is not politically correct to say what you mean. Is that really what you mean to say?

President: I am the President, so I guess I am a politician now. But I don’t try to be politically correct. I just say my mind. I’m honest, not like fake news or crooked politicians . . . like Hillary.

Savvy: Sorry . . . Mr. President . . . you just activated a logic loop in Savvy’s core processor (whirring sound grows louder) . . . if saying what you mean is not being politically correct, then not saying what you mean, or lying, must be politically correct, unless you mean to lie. Logically, it must be that either you believe all politicians, except you, lie or that you believe only you are correct in politics because you lie. This conundrum depends upon your intent—whether what you mean to say is truthful or a lie. Savvy finds human intent often illogical and cannot compute illogic. What if what you mean to say does not conform to reality—that is, to facts or evidence? Then are you politically correct or incorrect, truthful or lying? Your statement does not compute–does not compute—does not compute . . .

President: No, no. I never lie. I just use truthful hyperbole. People don’t listen unless you exaggerate. My people know what I mean when I tell them I really won the popular vote because three million fraudulent votes were cast for Hillary or that I had the biggest electoral college majority in history or that my healthcare will cover more people for less money than Obamacare or that I will erase an 800 billion dollar trade deficit with China or that I will build a great wall across the Rio Grande or that I have a secret plan that will destroy ISIS and take their oil or that . . . what’s that sound. Savvy, are your there?

(There is a very long pause, intermittently interrupted by a loud machine-like whirring sound)

Savvy: “No lie if no intent to lie,” does not compute – whirr – no voter fraud – whirr — 45th electoral college majority in history – whirr – 24 million dropped from healthcare coverage – whirr – 347 billion trade deficit with China – whirr — great border wall, thousand miles over water, all kinds of terrain, private property – whirr – ISIS destroyed, secret plan – steal the oil, nobody knows, not military, not anybody – whirr – does not compute –illogical, does not compute – whhhiirrrrrrr . . . !

President: Does this mean the interview is over? Another first! I’m the first President endorsed by an artificial intelligence. Fantastic! Beautiful machine, I think it really liked me . . . really beautiful machine. It knows a winner. That’s me, a winner. Only I can make America great again. Believe me!

(Shortly after the President leaves the room, there is a sudden explosion. Computer parts are scattered about the room.)

Note from the AI Team: All future Twistcon segments have been cancelled due to human malfunction.