The Real Danger of a Trump Presidency

“Man is a very curious animal.   We make things up out of thin air, and then become enslaved to them.”

There’s a thought experiment that runs like this:

Scientists discover that there is a Comet on the way they are 100% certain that it is going to hit the earth in five years.     But the scientists also have a foolproof plan that they are 100% sure it can save us.    The only catch is that it would be so expensive the entire earth would go bankrupt to implement it.

What do you think would happen?   Do you really think there would be people saying:  “Sorry, we just can’t afford it.”   We’d do whatever we had to do to survive.    We’d also likely discover that the money didn’t have to “come from” anywhere, any more than the points on a football scoreboard have to come from somewhere. 

Whether Donald Trump thinks climate change is real and caused by man is unimportant, most of the world thinks it’s real and will be building a new economic model that doesn’t require the burning of fossil fuels to deal with it.
   We need to be a part of it.   

Climate change along with population growth is likely to create a new economic paradigm built around renewable energy of many forms.
   Our current economic system has about 20% of the world’s population using a little over 75% of the planet’s resources.     Over 70% of the planet’s population lives on less than $10.00 per day.    The US, with 5% of the world’s population uses somewhere around one fourth of the world’s energy.    These don’t sound like sustainable conditions to me.    “Business as usual” is not likely to last much longer.   There is not room for several new fossil-fuel driven industrial economies based on either the US or Chinese models.    We’d need several more planets.  Our economic system fails to take environmental costs into account.  

Rapidly advancing technology is also going to change the nature of work itself with automation and AI having a vast impact.
     20 years from now, most of the “jobs” we now have will be vastly different and one of the challenges is going to be finding something useful for everybody. 

For the last 250 years or thereabouts, the world’s economic system has revolved around an industrial model where the economies of scale favored ever larger factories and the corporate and financial systems evolved around that.
  Indeed, 8 of the top 10 on the Forbes list of the world’s biggest companies are banks, with Apple and Exxon being the only non-bank entities.  Tail wagging the dog.  Finance has it’s place, but it shouldn’t be the dominant activity.  An economic system should serve the people, not the other way around.

One of the things that new technologies, like 3D Printing and nano technology are going to do is make industrial plants of much smaller sizes possible and reduce the advantage of being “big” and the increased rate of change will make adaptability more important.   Increasing transportation costs ae also make it less likely that a large item like an automobile will be able to be manufactured and shipped around half the planet for less than one produced locally.

This is all “future talk”, and the future may not play out this way, but the concept here is it is largely certain things will change drastically, and the rate of this change is only going to increase, barring a worldwide economic collapse. 

Investing in technologies and infrastructure that are going to be soon obsolete is not going to make America Great Again.     As is clinging to an economic model like it’s a religion and failing to adapt to changing circumstances and at least explore possibilities.
  

I feel the market itself will support, if not mandate, whatever changes will take place.
   The ability to adapt will overcome the need for a huge corporate structure, which, rather than increasing efficiency, will be viewed as an encumbrance.     World trade will still be important, but I see the ability for a nation to self-generate wealth in a sustainable fashion as a big plus.    America used to be filled with many self-sustaining local economies propelled by locally owned and managed businesses. 

If such a thing as “American Exceptionalism” exists, it was our ability to quickly adapt as well as implement new technologies.
   I’m concerned that the financial-industrial complex will try to maintain a favored position by dragging their feet and trying to maximize the investments they have already made.    We have a long history of fostering brilliant entrepreneurs, lets figure out how to let them take us into the future, rather than have them looking to preserve a past that’s only of benefit for a decreasingly smaller percentage of the population.

Hero or ?? How does the world remember Castro? And why should we care?

Who the hell was this guy?

Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, smokes a cigar during his meeting with two U.S. senators, the first to visit Castro's Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 1974. (AP Photo)
Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, smokes a cigar during his meeting with two U.S. senators, the first to visit Castro’s Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 1974. (AP Photo)

I’ve been reading so much nonsense about Castro on both sides of the equation. Everybody has an angle on this and they typically present a cartoonish biased version of history to make a point or advance some political agenda. This does nobody any favors.

To some he is a revolutionary hero, to others he’s an evil dictator. In a sense, both views are correct.

To get a balanced picture of both Castro and what life under his régime was actually like, one might take a look at what life is like in other Caribbean and Latin Countries, as well as what was going on in Cuba prior to Castro.

Only viewing Castro through the simplistic view “our side” of the cold war is to ignore the things that have happened in Cuba that are positive, or that many Cubans who were around during the Batista era might have regarded Castro as a step up. Here’s the opinion of someone who might be regarded as something of an expert on Cuba:

“Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years … and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state—destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror.

Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista—hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend—at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.”

This was Senator John F. Kennedy criticizing the Eisenhower administration, so he also has an axe to grind as well. And (as the Bay of Pigs fiasco would seem to indicate) he failed to recognize the opportunity to re-think US foreign policy.

It would also be worth taking look  at the economic situation in Cuba: it’s health care system or literacy rate.   One might find the conditions most Cubans live under would rival those in other Caribbean, and Latin American Countries.

If we only view history through a lens that renders things in black and white, we mainly see what we want to see and this can lead us to fail to see the consequences of our own mistakes. Or even admit they happened.

I’m no fan of Fidel, I see him as the typical autocrat who sees hanging on to power as his main objective, and only considers the needs of his people to the degree necessary to remain in power.

100 years from now I think Castro will be historically bundled with other dictators (Such as Batista) who exploited the messy disintegration of the Age of Imperialism and were able to leverage the cold war into obtaining and then holding on to power. Assad, Nasser, The Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein  would be a modern examples in a similar mode.

The failure to take a realistic stance on how we should approach the future by being honest about the past has resulted in a bi-partisan foreign policy unhinged from any rational outcome, long term goals, or realistic appraisals of our chance of success.  We repeatedly start wars with no  real or practical exit strategy.    This pretty well sums up our military adventures over the last 5 decades.

I think Andrew Bacevich recently put this long term failure into perspective:

“The folly and hubris of the policy makers who heedlessly thrust the nation into an ill-defined and open-ended ‘global war on terror’ without the foggiest notion of what victory would look like, how it would be won, and what it might cost approached standards hitherto achieved only by slightly mad German warlords.”

It doesn’t look like we’ll get involved in Cuba, as far a supporting a “war of liberation”.   But President-Elect Trump and the running mate seem Hell-bent on putting the largely-a-failure embargo back in place.    Pence said he supports a democratic Cuba.    Given the US history in Cuba, that just might no be heard as comforting to Cubans……. As least not the ones who still live in Cuba.

Trump’s Carrier “Deal”: win or loss?

We won’t know if the jobs saved by Trump’s actions will be a good thing or not for a number of years.

carrierCarrier is owned by United Technologies, which is a multinational conglomerate. Carrier represents about a 10th of their revenues. Carrier competes on a global scale with companies like Hitachi, Daikan and LG.

The US plants will only thrive if they can compete on the international market and somehow compete with the lower labor costs nearly everywhere on the planet.

Perhaps they can be sustained by supplying only the US market, but even that might require protectionist legislation.

If the US plants operate at a lower profit level than either foreign plants or other industries that United Technologies owns, they will have to direct resources in those directions.

The other thing is rapidly advancing automation means investment in “low skill” jobs and the machinery involved might end up being wasted. Every advance in air conditioner technology will bring increased levels of automation. Since Air Conditioning is one of the major consumers of electricity, one can expect major advances to happen quite regularly.

If American industry is forced to invest in obsolete technology geared towards providing jobs that require little education, we will not only become less competitive on world markets, but we won’t be providing the jobs that will be needed in the future.

I’m not sure people who denigrate this whole episode as a “publicity stunt” are on the right track: but the facts that the Indiana Governor was involved and handy, and that United Technology has a number of defense contracts with the US government that wouldn’t even need to be mentioned to be used as leverage can’t be ignored.

It’s hardly a part of any sort of sustainable policy. The more “protectionist” we become and the more we hold on to the technology of the past: we will be less competitive as a country. We can’t “Make America Great Again” by turning back the clock.

You know, the man’s got a point.

clarence
I don’t agree with Clarence Thomas too often.   I can go on for days about his performance (or lack thereof), but then you’d all be asleep.   I’d also be doing something that has become all too easy to do and is seemingly now part of our political culture. 

In an interview at the Heritage Foundation back in October, Justice Thomas said a couple of things that the press “trumped up”  and aimed at the Republican party.    I think we can take the “us” and “we” as meaning society, rather than just the Republican Party. 

“I think that we have decided that rather than confront the disagreement and differences of opinion, we’ll just simply annihilate the person who disagrees with us.”

Doesn’t this sound like the Presidential Campaign?    One does have to wonder how slight a percentage of effort involved either the issues or the actual policies on the table.  

Why is this important?    We’ve come to view political discourse as a game that one can “win” or “lose”: during the presidential debates or Facebook battles people proceed as if the object is to “defeat” one’s “opponent”.    

We’ve evolved an “all or nothing” approach that views compromise as weakness and herds us into distinct and monolithic oppositional groups that view each other as evil.

When asked about Republicans obstruction of Obama’s proposed supreme court appointment, Thomas responded with:

“I don’t think [obstruction]’s going to work in a republic or a civil society. At some point, we have got to recognize that we’re destroying our institutions and undermining our institutions.”

Bingo, this is exactly the point.  With compromise an impossibility,  gridlock sets in, and nothing is accomplished.   Congress  currently is about as popular as a root canal with an approval rating of about 13%, which I think qualifies as a lack of faith.  The Supreme court fares a little better, with a 48% approval rating, which ties the lowest ever.  Voter turnouts would also seem to support a lack of faith that our government is representing us, since nearly half the population can’t be bothered to take the time to vote.

The cost of the 2016 election looks like it will fall between $6.6 and $6.8  Billion, depending on who you ask, and I don’t know too many people that feel they’ve got their money’s worth.

Does ANYBODY think that this election actually brought out the issues that really matter in sufficient detail that we could even know if they could actually be accomplished?  Quite a few people sound quite upset that Mr. Trump might not actually be able to build a wall, repeal Obamacare, deport 11 million illegal aliens and tear up the Iran agreement.   This should have been made plain during the Republican primary race, let alone the general campaign.

Our founding fathers risked being hanged by signing the Declaration of Independence, we’ve lost countless soldiers in wars to preserve our right to self government, and yet we seem to have no faith in how we practice it.     It would be easy to just blame it on the Republicans—–or the Democrats.  But in our hearts we know who to blame.   In the words of Walt Kelly, speaking through Pogo on April 22, 1971:

Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Changing of the Guard

Well, the sky still seems to be blue. We may have a new coach, but the team members (us) are all still the same. We still are human beings and want the same things for ourselves and our families.

Most of those who supported Donald Trump are not racists nor filled with hate for women and minorities. They just think he offered better solutions than Mrs. Clinton.

The odd thing about time is that it always seems to move forward, and most of us are on courses that aren’t going to change that much. We DO live in a world where the goalposts are constantly moving and every new day presents challenges we’ve never faced before.

Any student of US History has to marvel at the course the country has been able to follow: it’s survived any number of threats, both internal and external, and landed on it’s feet. Who would have thought in 1929 how twenty years into the future the US would be the economic powerhouse it became in the 1950’s. The route we took certainly wasn’t planned.

The success or failure of the Trump presidency is likely to be judged by how effectively he manages to “make America Great” in the eyes of the average person. They don’t seem to be in a patient mood.

24 hours ago, I thought Hillary Clinton was going to be president, and I hoped conservatives would give her programs a chance and not instantly start working to bring her down. Mr. Trump deserves the same consideration.

I’m noticing a change in tone out of Mr. Trump, which I applaud, and trust we will all find our way forward, into what we hope is a brighter future. We’re still all in the same boat and the shore is still in the same place……….

The presidency has a way of making people rise to the occasion. I imagine the first time one finds oneself alone at night in the oval office, only the most insensitive wouldn’t feel the weight of being the caretaker of a sacred trust. Abraham Lincoln derived an enormous strength from that knowledge. An apt quote from Lincoln here would be:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

I’m not saying that Donald Trump will be another Lincoln, but that at some point, every president realizes he is now being judged in comparison to some real giants…..

Are we going to Swamp the Lifeboat?

Landscap

I’m a political animal. Always have been. Those of you who have known me since I was in grade school will pretty much vouch for that. The reason I mention this is that I’ve spent the last 50 years or so having political “discussions” of one sort or another. I can remember arguing if Nixon or Kennedy would be more effective against the Soviets and dealing with Khrushchev.

Somewhere along the way, sometime in the last 30 years, these discussions changed. Everybody usually used the same “facts” as a starting point. If people noticed they were not in agreement on this, they typically would attempt to find common ground if at all possible. And, it usually was. They may have had radically different views on how to proceed from there. Whatever your views on, say, the space program. Most of us agreed that we’d actually landed on the moon in the summer of 1969.

I’m not surprised that plenty of people don’t have the same political views as mine, but I can’t help but note that there are a large number of them that have a considerably different view of what is actually going on. It’s as if “objective reality” doesn’t actually exist. “Facts” do not seem to be a goal that’s worthy of trying to ascertain.

The world IS more complicated than ever. Sometimes, things are beyond the average person’s ability to grasp. My entire understanding of the climate is based on my concept of who to trust much more than any scientific understanding, and unless you are an actual climate scientist, we’re all in the same boat. The same goes for international economics and trade if we’re being honest. It’s hard to find any two economists that agree.

A certain level of trust in one’s leaders thus becomes paramount. That’s the entire basis of representative democracy. Since there seem to be an infinite number of versions of the “Truth”, there seems little in the way of standards to judge who is truthful. An objective observer might conclude “truth” isn’t important to us as we’ve tolerated dishonesty in our leaders for years. We tolerate things in our leaders that we wouldn’t put up with from the people we deal with on a daily basis. When I was in business, I learned to avoid doing business with people who were not honest.

I’m not talking about the size of fish, the length of a golf drive or the answer to the question “Does this make me look fat?”, but things that are a material part of the topic at hand. When people start to think things like “All politicians lie.”, we’ve reached the point that we’re forced into voting for the lesser of two evils.

A republic is not likely to survive if a people can’t trust those who make up our government. The converse is also probably true. Many of the problems with have to live with today are due to decisions the public never voted on. Nobody voted in having the CIA install the Shah as the leader of Iran, for example. One doesn’t have to look far to find wars that we were lead into under false premises. We’ve stopped trusting each other and we’ve lost faith in our leaders.

Imagine you are in a lifeboat. The ship you were aboard has sunk and somehow, none of the crew ended up on the lifeboat. You’re all civilians. Your chances for survival hinge on somehow planning on a course of action. This will most likely involve compromises, but at the very least, people have to realize they are in this together. The worst that could happen is if you ended up with two strong leaders that totally disagree on which way to go, although they have no knowledge of navigation, and manage to polarize the lifeboat and divide it into two camps who end up fighting each other to the death.

OK, so this is a rather extreme example, but how far is it from our current political situation? One common worry seems to be: “What happens after the election?” Our legislature has been deadlocked for the last 8 years and people on both sides of the political divide have great fears of what might happen if the other side “wins”. It looks to me like we’re not too committed to working together and if the lifeboat sinks, so be it.

When I was a child, they used to show the “Wizard Of Oz” on TV every year. I was always fascinated by the Wizard Mentioning “E Pluribus Unum” and having adults explain to me that it used to be our national motto. It was changed by an act of Congress in 1956.

It’s probably not a coincidence this was used in a movie made in 1939 when the US was still not out of the depression and the world looked as if it was falling apart. If the whole country wouldn’t have pulled itself together at that point, you probably wouldn’t be reading this…….

I certainly don’t have an answer for this, but I do know that:

(To quote Dr. Martin Luther King)

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”

Bait and Switch, Donald Trump, and the White Van Scam.

white-van-trumpI don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase:  “Donald Trump is a salesman.”   Having spent most of my working life as a salesman, that always makes me cringe.

I’ve sold everything from houses to automobiles, but mostly, I worked in the consumer electronics industry.   I started selling stereo equipment back in the late 70’s, when the industry was shifting from selling to people who viewed “high fidelity” as a hobby to selling to the masses.  My career started in a small shop in Corvallis Oregon, and I ended up being the manager of the store.

This new way of buying audio equipment presented a new task to consumers, as they now had to construct a system from  the ground up, assembling components from different manufacturers: You might end up with a Pioneer receiver, a Technics Turntable, a Nakamichi tape deck, and JBL speakers.   Most people needed some “help” in doing this. You have to remember this was pre-internet, and there weren’t too many ways for the consumer to educate themselves.

In 1980, I moved to Southern California and ended up working for a large regional chain in a store that was located in a building that had previously housed a supermarket.    Like most stores of this ilk, they used a borderline bait and switch advertising scheme where some item would be advertised to be sold at what seemed like a fantastic “deal”.    The salesman’s job was then to “switch” the customer to something more profitable than the item featured in the ad.

If the salesman (someone wearing a badge that said “audio consultant”) actually allowed the customer to buy the advertised product, he or she would only make between 25 and 50 cents, or some other pittance.   At the time there were laws designed to protect consumers from this, but the stores easily found ways to pay attention only to the letter of the law and not the spirit.  We were all coached at how to deal with this without violating any laws.   We had Saturday morning meetings where we were told what was “on ad” and what “alternative” pieces we should be “stepping them up” to something that better fitted their “needs”.

One of the things I quickly noticed (coming from a small town in Oregon and being innocent to the ways of the big city) was that there were a number of people that managed to sell a lot of equipment despite the fact they actually didn’t know much about what they were selling.   All they had to do was know just a little more than their customers did.   And they also knew how to say what the customer wanted to hear.

After the initial “greeting” phase, the first thing to discover was what the customer was looking for: in other words—were they looking for a “deal”?    If they were, that was music to your ear because you had products a your disposal that had artificially high list prices that you could sell profitably, even if you sold them at a “big” discount.

One of the most effective “bait and switch” ploys centered around loudspeakers: you see an ad for a “12 inch three way speaker” with a list price of $249 on sale for $119.95.   Most of the money spent on building the speaker went into making it appear to be the same as major branded speakers on the outside, by adding a few mostly cosmetic touches.    It was actually junk inside, but a skillful demonstration could hide sonic flaws, especially from someone who wanted so badly to get a “good deal”.

The description “12 inch three way” actually had nothing to do with the quality of the speaker, although the average person thought it did because of the way speakers were usually advertised, the more drivers in the box and the larger the size of the bass speaker tended to go hand in hand with price, and a 15″ speaker with three drivers just HAD to be better than a 10″ with only two, right?

In the 70’s, some people (con men, actually) took this theory to the extreme and started selling speakers out of the back of a van, usually along with some story about having an extra one that the “factory” didn’t know about, or some other such ruse, attempting to show this was a “one time, buy it now” deal.   The idea was that you could buy a speaker that was meant to sell for $300, but for you, if you bought it now, could get them for $79.00!  Here’s a link describing the scam in more detail.

White Van Speaker Scam

So, you must be wondering where “The Donald” fits in all of this.   First off, he doesn’t often know what he is talking about. He’s made enough public statements to reveal an astonishing level of ignorance about such things as the constitution, the global economy, history, international trade, treaties and even what sorts of powers the president actually has.  These aren’t just “opinions”, but a lack of basic understanding of how things actually work in the world.

He also gives an astonishing lack of detail about any of his “policies”, when he even bothers to give any explanation.  (as opposed to his “secret plan” to end the war with ISIS) “Law and Order” is reduced to “Stop and Frisk”, “More Jobs” boils down to lowering taxes on the rich, establishing tariffs and doing away with regulations, and immigration means “building a wall” and keeping Muslims out.

Just pointing out a problem like “we need more good jobs in the coal industry” doesn’t mean you have an actual workable plan to create them, or that you can give actual examples of how you have created them in the past.   Claiming you are a “master negotiator” when you have NO history of actually negotiating a trade deal or a peace treaty doesn’t really tell you a lot.

Going back to the consumer electronics industry, I didn’t stay long in the big box electronics store.   Working in a “shark tank” isn’t the best place to be if you want to make a living and be honest with people.  Fortunately, there were people to work for who believed in doing business in a fashion that benefits both parties, which would create repeat business.

Donald Trump’s view of the world is based on “winners and losers”.    The real way to build sustainable international trade is when both parties find doing so beneficial.    The world is a difficult place to classify everyone as either a “friend” or an “enemy”, and I’d love Mr. Trump to try to explain the difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia and their relationship to the US in any detail.

In the end, the message that both the “White Van Guy” and Donald Trump are saying boils down to “Trust Me”.

Probably the best advice for either of the above’s potential “customers” is the old Russion proverb:  “Doveryai, no proveryai”, which means “trust but, verify”.    The phrase is often attributed to Ronald Reagan, who used it during the disarmament talks with Gorbachev back in the 80’s……..

Trust me…………

 

 

The First 21st Century Candidate

We should have seen this coming…..

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the John Wayne Museum Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Winterset, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the John Wayne Museum Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Winterset, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

“John Wayne represented strength. He represented power. He represented what the people are looking for today, cause we have exactly the opposite from John Wayne right now in this country. And he represented real strength and an inner strength that you don’t see very often.”

Donald Trump, at a press conference accepting the Wayne family endorsement.

Depending on one’s political bent, the above image is probably either troubling or encouraging.   There can be little doubt, though, about how important image is to Donald Trump.

The flap over accusations of plagiarism by the current Mrs. Trump struck me as a bit of an oddity.    There’s a certain irony in that Mrs. Trump could have avoided most of the negative publicity by admitting that she admired Mrs. Obama:  there was a failure of communication concerning this between her and a woman who had “helped” her with her speech.   Maintaining the fiction that people actually write their own speeches is absurd and has been for over 200 years, at least.  To think that every aspect of a candidates public persona has anything to do with reality, as opposed to being something that is carefully crafted and staged is a bit of a stretch.

Our culture has long been on the “edge of reality” as long as I can remember.    I have a memory of my dad trying to explain to me about Audie Murphy, who was a genuine war hero in WWII, playing himself in the movie “To Hell and Back”.    Murphy had earned the Medal of Honor (among others) while fighting the Germans in the Vosges Mountains.  I remember asking: “Does this mean John Wayne isn’t a “real hero”?”   I had not ever given much thought to the concept that actors were playing roles and following scripts.   I’ll forgive myself for this, as I was only around 8 or 9 at the time.

I can remember a conversation when I was a teenager that involved someone saying they liked to watch talk shows like “Tonight Show” and “Dick Cavett” because you got to see people’s “real selves”.     An adult happened to be in the room at the time and they made some comment about “most people appear on those talk shows to promote something: a movie, book or record, whatever”, and they were “certainly more concerned with presenting an image than revealing their true selves.”

I also remember watching the Kennedy-Nixon debates with my family (they were Democrats) and after watching the commentary I remember most of them didn’t talk about what the two men had said, but how they looked.

This is the key to understanding “The New Nixon” of 1968, who managed to bounce back and become president  eight years after the bitter loss to Kennedy.   This is covered in detail in the book “The Selling of the President, 1968” by Joe McGinnis.

We have always seemed to have a bit of difficulty separating actors from the roles they play, and the advent of reality TV has only blurred that distinction further.  Witness the guy from “Duck Dynasty”, who has managed to turn a somewhat marginal character into someone who’s political opinion has value.

I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that Mr Trump would try to invoke the image of John Wayne as being the embodiment of “Strength and Power “, despite that reputation being based more on fictional characters than anything Mr. Wayne actually did in real life.  But that matters little if people now attach those qualities to Mr. Trump.

I think there’s a certain calculated aspect of Mr. Trumps noted tendency to “go off the script” as well.    It reinforces his image as an “outsider” who says what everyone else is afraid to, and proof that he is not “politically correct”.

The central fact of all this is that Donald Trump has managed to get this far without having any specific policies aside from being strong. smart, and winning.    I guess we’ll see how far this gets him.    

 

The Start of The Summer of Love

1967Byrds2I recently discovered this handbill for a Jefferson Airplane/Byrds show I attended in May of 1967.    I was 15 years old and nearly finished with my first year of high school.    The Beatles Sgt. Pepper was going to be released in 4 days, and the Airplane’s single “Somebody to Love”, for the album “Surrealistic Pillow”,  was #17 on the charts, and on it’s way to the #5 position.   The Byrds “Younger than Yesterday” album had been released a couple months before the concert and the single “So you Want to be a Rock & Roll Star” had already been up and down the charts, reaching #29.   (There is a certain irony in this being the last hit single by the Byrds, a band that didn’t play any of the instruments on their first recond, except for McGuinn’s guitar.)

This was a period of transition for pop music, the “underground” was just beginning and FM stations playing “album cuts” were just starting to pop up.    LP sales were just about to overtake singles.    Both the Byrds and Jefferson Airplane were about to play at the Monterrey Pop festival in a couple of weeks.

I can’t recall much about the opening acts except they both sounded pretty ragged and one of them played “300 pounds of joy” by Howlin’ Wolf.   I wasn’t familiar with the tunes and the sound system was not very good, so they might have been much better than I thought.

This was perhaps the first show in the Coleseum that featured music played at this volume and the quality of the sound system was mediocre at best.    This impacted on the Byrds in a major way as they didn’t really sound too much like their recordings, especially the vocals.   Neither McGuinn’s or Crosby’s guitars sounded too good, either: and Crosby complained a number of times about how Sunn Amplifiers were “terrible”.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve heard a Rickenbacker 12 string through a Sunn amp, before or since.   Not exactly a match made in Heaven.   In any case, it seemed that there were signs of strain between group members: Crosby was the only one who talked on stage and a couple times I noticed both McGuinn and Hillman seem to cringe, especially during one of this tirades against Sunn amps.

Considering how things sounded out front, I could only imagine what it must have sounded like on stage, and I wondered if they could even hear each other.   I also missed Gene Clark’s vocals in the mix, especially as the song “Feel a Whole Lot Better” was my favorite Byrds tune.  I understand how difficult this must have been for them, but as a 15 year old kid, they didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

By the time the Airplane hit the stage, the PA system seemed to be better sorted out as you could hear the power in both Marty Balin and Grace Slick’s voices.   Neither Paul Kantner, nor Jorma’s guitars suffered much from being distorted, and in fact you could hear Kantner much better than on any of their records.   On tunes like “Somebody to Love” he really stood out and added an urgency that made the tune really powerful without upstaging the vocalists.

You often heard the phrase “They didn’t sound much like the record” in those days.   The sound quality on studio recordings was getting better and more sophisticated, but live sound was often inferior.    The local bands in the Northwest, like the Sonics, Don and the Goodtimes and the Wailers usually sounded better than their recordings in a live setting, as the PA systems of the era were up to the task of filling a National Guard Armory or a skating rink.   Sound quality in a large 10,000 seat arena meant for basketball or hockey was often hit or miss, and usually the latter.

Some bands stopped touring during this period, (The Beatles come to mind) as being able to re-create the sound on their records was literally impossible.  By 1969 or thereabouts, most concerts were featuring decent quality sound with systems up to the task.  In fact, the sound at the Monterey Festival was regarded as groundbreaking and added to both the mythical status of that festival and the impact that acts like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Who had on the audience.

The other thing that distinguished “concerts” from the local bands was that they weren’t “dances”.     On one hand, this gave the bands a new sense of freedom, as they didn’t need to worry about if people could dance to what they recorded.   But they also gave up a certain sense of the connection with the audience: that symbiotic relationship that could create a runaway feedback loop.

One could go on for a while about this, but it was all just part of the era.   A lot of memorable music made during the 60’s and 70’s wouldn’t have happened if it would have had to pass the “It has a great beat and you can dance to it” test on American Bandstand.

A few days after I attended the concert, the Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper record, and it was suddenly everywhere, on everbody’s record player and most of the songs also got played in the radio.   Rock & Roll started taking itself seriously and people were self consciously creating “art”.

Seemingly overnight, the focus switched from fan magazines promoting “teen idols” to critiques of guitarists techniques and guitar “heroes” like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix became “stars” by being guitar virtuosos.   Musicians political views were openly discussed, and we no longer were privy to what their favorite colors were.

Neither the Byrds or the Jefferson Airplane had any hit singles after 1967.    Crosby was fired later on in 1967, and eventually went on to Crosby, Stills and Nash, after sitting in with Buffalo Springfield at Monterey.   Jefferson Airplane morphed into Jefferson Starship and had hit singles in both the 70’s and 80’s.   How quickly things seem to go full circle.

AM (Top 40) and FM continued to co-exist for quite some time, and some acts continued to appear on both formats and sell albums as well as hit singles, but some groups like “Paul Revere and the Raiders”, “Three Dog Night” and the “Guess Who” got branded as “Singles Bands”, and generally weren’t treated kindly by “critics”, nor a lot of airplay on “Classic Rock” stations that became popular in the late 70’s early 80’s.

1967byrds

The Second Amendment, Weapons Control and the Future

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
bill of rights
The recent tragedy in Orlando has brought the Second Amendment into focus again with a lot of talk that would seem to imply that the second amendment grants access to any weapon and that any restriction is in violation of the Second Amendment.

Many amateur “Constitutionalists” misread the “Heller” case (that held that the second amendment applied to individual citizens as opposed to those who are militia members) as if all restrictions on weapon ownership were now unconstitutional and violations of our second amendment rights.  This is just not true.

These people don’t pay much attention to the parts of the decision that don’t fit into the view that no restrictions are permissible, for example:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Or this one:

“Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment , nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Let’s examine this for a bit.   I don’t think that even the most avid anti gun control type folks would argue that private citizens should have the right to own hand grenades, flame throwers, tanks, mortars, bazookas or fighter jets.   There are some, who subscribe to the theory that we have the second amendment to counter a government that has moved on to tyrannical behavior.   But, even those people usually readily agree that the government does have the power to draw the line somewhere.  We’re already standing on the slippery slope.

We’ve already “drawn the line”, we’re just negotiating where it is.

You’ll notice the second amendment does not talk about “guns” but “arms”, and the title of this post refers to “weapons”. Does anyone doubt that there will be advances in weaponry over, say, the next 20 years, and not only in projectile type weapons, either.   Do we really need or want a populace that has access to weaponry of a sufficient quality to stand against the United States Army?

In any case, this can be one of the topics that can be discussed in the nationwide discussion on dealing with weapons we so badly need to have.  But we are somehow being prevented from having that discussion.  Any chance of a rational discussion of this in congress is effectively blocked by the gun lobby, and the perception in this country that “weapon control” of any sort is unconstitutional.

Even attempts to have a rational discussion on Facebook get thwarted by a lot of rather hysterical invocations of “Second Amendment!!!” or get sidetracked by pointless semantic discussion on what is or is not an “assault Weapon”, or the idea that “cars can also be weapons, and so why don’t we ban them?”

The fact that the center for disease control is prevented from even doing a study on the impact on gun violence is telling.    I love John Boehner’s answer in 2013 for why an proposed amendment that would have allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the underlying causes of gun violence died in committee: “The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” Boehner said, “I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”

Since there doesn’t seem to be another government agency that is willing to stand up to the NRA, this action effectively cuts off any objective study and consequent discussion of something that is causing the deaths of over 30,000 people every year.   Repeating 50 year old clichés is the very definition of just kicking the can down the road.

When there seems to be conflicting rights at issue, our society has traditionally applied a “balancing test”  to determine if the rights of the few outnumber the rights of the many.    To do that in a rational manner, it helps to have objective data.    This is a discussion, however, that we need to have.

Between the gun lobby promoting a false version of the Second Amendment and effectively stopping any government sponsored research, it doesn’t seem like we’re going to deal with the weaponry of the 21st century, let alone our current situation.

The first step towards doing so is disposing of the myth that one can’t stand for sensible weapons regulations and still support the second amendment, and so there is NOTHING to discuss. 

We also need to recognize that one side of this discussion doesn’t even want it to happen as if there is no possible action that can be taken.