62,000,000 Trump Supporters (including Putin) Can’t Be Wrong – Can They?

(click on the link below to view the full article in WordPress)

The headline refers to a meme floating around cyberspace concerning possible Russian interference in our election process. It shows four photos of crowded Trump rallies, and has the caption “All of this was not caused by a Russian hack.” In addition to this statement, the majority opinion, based on what I’ve seen floating around Facebook, is that it doesn’t matter if Russia was complicit in the release of DNC emails; what’s more important is that the emails were revealed and showed underhanded dealings by the Democrats.”

The story is “The Russians didn’t do it, but if they did do it, it didn’t affect the election, but if it did affect the election, it did it by exposing Democratic dirty tricks.”

No surprise that a lot of information – and misinformation – has been floated about the discussion of Russian interference in our election process. Many different issues have been convoluted, some incorrectly. I’m going to try to sort out the issues separately here.

Was Russia involved in the hacking of the DNC servers? Seventeen out of 25 government agencies, based on their research, believe it was. Rebuttals have said “The CIA says so, but not the FBI,” and “Loretta Lynch doesn’t think it’s true,” and “It might be Russia, or it might be China.” The last comment came from Trump, so I put more faith in government investigative organizations and their research than I do in a proven liar.

The FBI was simply not as quick to release their findings. The FBI and CIA have different purposes. The CIA is interested in gathering accurate information. The FBI is interested in gathering actionable information, which is a higher standard. It’s not surprising they took longer to reach the same conclusion.

In response to the claim that not all government agencies said Russia was behind the hacking, I say, if even a few say there is credible evidence, doesn’t that warrant investigation when our national elections are at stake?

Did the hack affect our elections? The meme I mentioned at the start of this blog suggests that there were a lot of actual Trump supporters, and that ballot boxes were not stuffed, or election machines hacked. I agree that it is difficult and fruitless to try to hack individual voting machines. It is costly, and must be done on a massive scale, making it difficult to conceal what was being done. So no, there were actual people who voted for Trump – around 62,000,000.

There are other ways to affect elections. One way is by a government official releasing information that knowingly affects a candidate. Congress viewed this as a real enough threat that they passed the Hatch Act, named after Utah senator Orrin Hatch. The Hatch Act makes it illegal for a government official to release information knowing it will affect the outcome of an election. In fact, Nevada senator Harry Reid sent a letter stating he believed Comey violated this Act when he presented his information to Congress in October.

So our government believes it is possible to affect an election by releasing information. This is what the Russians have been doing.

Doesn’t the fact that the emails reveal irregularities in the DNC trump the way the emails were retrieved? (Pun intentional.) Even though it is not directly relevant to the issue at hand, I want to bring up the constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure. In criminal investigations, police are careful to make sure their evidence is legally obtained. If the courts determine that the evidence was obtained illegally, it is not permitted to be seen, regardless of how convincingly it proves their case. Not pursuing the bad actors (in this case, the Russians) can set a bad precedent; agents will be more likely to attempt to hack into servers knowing that the public will be more interested in the information than in the fact that it was illegally obtained.

Second, what the emails revealed is that the DNC wanted Clinton to be the nominee and targeted the Sanders campaign. DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigned over this discovery. This was met with outrage by some in the Sanders camp, and served to increase distrust in Democratic voters. However, nothing illegal was done.

Each party is entitled to choose their nominee however they like. (This is in contrast to general elections, where the method of election is clearly spelled out, and there are serious penalties for trying to bypass those methods.) The party hold a vote, then have a handful of people meet in a smoke-filled room and choose their nominee, regardless of the outcome of the vote. True, this is a sure way to alienate voters, but there is nothing illegal about it. Remember, some Republicans were trying to engineer a change at the Republican convention to have someone other than Trump be the nominee.

If you listen to detractors, they would suggest that Clinton and the rest of the Democrats should be executed for what their emails say they did.

So, the bottom line is that 17 of 25 government agencies concluded that the Russians were behind the hack of the DNC servers. In addition, they believe the Russians did it specifically to help Trump get elected. If it also comes out that some people in the Trump campaign were complicit in working with the Russians – well, I heard the word “treason” brought up in several news outlets.

All of this deserves to be taken extremely seriously.

What is more frightening to me is what information on the Republicans the Russians may be holding, and if they release any after Trump assumes power. Despite what it might reveal about the Republicans, I really don’t want that other shoe to drop.

This Article Is Fake

Fake news has become a buzzword of late. In fact, PolitiFact called fake news its “Lie of the Year” for 2016.

Actually, fake news has been going on for a long time. The “National Enquirer,” “The Star,” and any number of other tabloid papers have been around since I was young (as I said, a long time). Penn State had the “Daily Collusion” and other names for its annual parody of the local “Daily Collegian.” That was from 1978 to 1982, and may still be going on today.

And satire, while big now, has always been around. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was an ideal satire: an idea, presented to the extreme, calling attention to a serious problem. Many publications had taken up the mantle, like “Mad Magazine” and “National Lampoon.”

There is a big difference between fake news and satire. Later on I will talk about a study researching fake news that does a great job of categorizing various publications.

Many have argued that fake news stories might have swayed the election. We have seen the effects: a gunman entered a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, “doing his own research” on a story about Hillary Clinton running a sex slave operation in the basement. (The pizza shop didn’t even have a basement.) The spread of a lie might have cost lives. Yet people retweet stories that are fake all the time.

The only way to stop its proliferation is to do your research, find the truth yourself, and call out the lies. We really don’t have time for that, so we rely on others to do their research, which is why fake news is dangerous. It totally undermines the value of a free press.

Conservatives are saying liberals are decrying fake news while they get their news from “The Daily Show.” There is a big difference. Jon Stewart has always been very clear that he is not a journalist, and is only poking fun. Still, the stories are well-researched and have some very sound arguments. There is a liberal slant to their presentation, but I don’t think anything has been an outright lie. John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO covers the same territory in the same way – with the added bonus of swearing!

Fake news publications like The Onion and the above-mentioned Daily Collusion clearly state that their stories are fake (if you couldn’t tell after reading the headlines). Their goal is clearly entertainment; anyone who believes any of their stories needs to get a few lessons in analytical thinking.

Then there are sites whose sole purpose in presenting fake news is to inflame their base. This article in The Daily Dot discusses a study by Melissa Zimdars, media professor at Merrimack College. She lists four categories of fake news sites, with descriptions. It is a more concise and helpful list, much more so than anything I could possibly come up with.

“CATEGORY 1: Below is a list of fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits. These websites are categorized with the number 1 next to them.

“CATEGORY 2: Some websites on this list may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information, and they are marked with a 2.

“CATEGORY 3: Other websites on this list sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions, and they are marked with a 3.

“CATEGORY 4: Other sources on this list are purposefully fake with the intent of satire/comedy, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news. I’m including them here, for now, because 1.) they have the potential to perpetuate misinformation based on different audience (mis)interpretations and 2.) to make sure anyone who reads a story by The Onion, for example, understands its purpose. If you think this is unnecessary, please see Literally Unbelievable.”

The entire article is at http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/fake-news-sites-list-facebook/. You may also want to check out “Literally Unbelievable” (link above). It is both sad and hilarious.

There is a difference between Category 1 sites and Category 4 sites. Any meme stating otherwise is playing fast and loose with what they call “fake news.”

How do we learn to recognize fake news, and what can we do about it? I see a few steps.

  • Learn which sites deal in fake news. The article above is a good starting place for fake news sources.
  • Develop and strengthen your bullshit detector. My wife is better at that than I am; she has pointed out scams that I didn’t recognize. Try to set biases aside, and see if a story makes sense. If it doesn’t, check it out to see.
  • In addition to sites that deal in fake news, learn where to go to verify a story. PolitiFact and Snopes are two of the biggest, but CNN is starting to do fact checking, and The Skeptical Inquirer has been around for a long while, if only in print form.
  • Finally, if someone reposts a story that smells bullshitty, and you find out that it is, show the person what you found. Help him learn what you looked for. You might get pushback, you might even get people who say, “I know that story about Clinton is wrong, but look at all the other horrible stuff she’s done.” I hope there will be a few who see what they did and try harder to smell out the fake stories.

 

We must all stay vigilant. That can start by bookmarking http://www.snopes.com and http://www.politifact.com.  I’ve done that.

Why Are We Still Debating Climate Change?

Let me start by presenting some articles. The first four present results of surveys of scientists concerning their thoughts on climate change. The last one is an article in National Review challenging the results in these surveys.

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/eost2009EO03/epdf

https://skepticalscience.com/97-percent-consensus-cook-et-al-2013.html

http://www.pbl.nl/sites/default/files/cms/publicaties/pbl-2015-climate-science-survey-questions-and-responses_01731.pdf

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/425232/climate-change-no-its-not-97-percent-consensus-ian-tuttle

 

I won’t rehash the articles; you can read them for yourselves. Highlights I found:

  • The surveys explain their methodology in detail.
  • In all cases, the vast majority of scientists conclude that climate change is real.
  • The vast majority of scientists also conclude that climate change is man made.
  • The degree to which the scientists claim global warming has manmade causes increases as the expertise in climate change increases.
  • The National Review article misrepresents the results from the other articles.

I have heard the argument from many people, including some national news sources, that this winter is cold, so therefore global warming isn’t real. Anyone who has taken any statistics course can see why this is not a sound argument. It’s like saying that above average height is not important in basketball because Scottie Pippen is short.

The earth’s temperature has been varying; many factors contribute to the temperature on any given day. However, the trend over hundreds of years shows a slightly increasing trend up until about 1900. At that point, the trend increases dramatically. Throughout the period, the temperature has fluctuated, but the overall trend has been upwards. One point does not a trend make.

Some people will suggest that I am getting my information from biased sources. (They already have, even before I presented anything.) The sources above (other than the National Review and maybe Skeptical Science) are impartial, interested only in presenting scientific findings. In my mind, even if the source might be biased, if the methodology is clearly laid out, and if the results are peer reviewed, any possible bias is irrelevant.

Any suggestion that the data are being tweaked by scientists to further their cause has several major flaws. First, it does a great disservice to scientists, who are seeking answers in the most accurate ways possible. Second, if you believe that tens of thousands of scientists across the globe can coordinate their research and their peers’ analyses to further their cause, you are delving into tin-foil hat territory. Massive conspiracy theories at this level have never been proven true.

Originally I was going to discuss why I don’t think scientists, politicians (Al Gore specifically), or countries (China) are perpetrating a hoax for financial gain. Then I realized the point is moot; the consensus is overwhelming that global warming is man made. They need no reason to be deceptive, because they aren’t being deceptive.

Experiments also suggest that we can reduce the effect of global warming by moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. Many more enlightened leaders are currently making moves toward reducing the effect of man made causes of global warming.

This is exactly the place for government to take action. Corporations have no incentive on their own to change to renewable sources. There is no immediate economic gain. The long-term downside could be catastrophic. What the government can do is make sure there is an immediate economic gain to converting to renewable energy.

Some people may not believe global warming is happening, but the thing about facts is they don’t care what you believe.

Why are we still debating climate change?

 

The End of Facebook

At least it’s the end of Facebook for me. I’m not so full of myself to think that if I stop posting, Facebook will collapse. In fact, it’s not totally the end of Facebook for me. I still have friends I want to keep in touch with, and I use it as a means to promote our local Toastmasters club, Arthur Storer Toastmasters. So I’m not going to disappear entirely.

I guess that makes the title wrong in every sense of the word. It is merely sensationalist. My bad.

What I am going to stop doing is conducting lengthy political debates there. As I indicated in my first post here, Facebook is not a great forum for debates. At its best, there are some detailed discussions, with links to appropriate articles and videos. These take a long time to scroll through, and just don’t look right amidst all the one-line comments and shout outs.

At its worst, political debates on Facebook quickly become diatribes, bickering like I remember from second grade, or efforts to explain my position when people misinterpret what I say or spin it in a totally different direction. This seems to be a favorite tactic of a lot of debaters. When Facebook discussions raise multiple points, or when one person tries to respond to multiple disparate comments, any sense of order quickly dissolves.

With a blog, I can avoid a lot of that. It’s much easier to read a blog post on WordPress than it is on Facebook, where it is squeezed between ads on either side of the page. I can take my time and fully explain myself, so there is less time discussing what people think I said and more time debating what I actually said.

As I indicated when I started this, Facebook is more the equivalent of the man standing on the corner and ranting (Speaker’s Corner in London, for those familiar with it). People walk by, listen for a few seconds, maybe get into a shouting match.

What I hope to do here is invite these people to sit down and have a discussion. Hence the virtual bar analogy.

So, if I think I can correct a point with a one-sentence reply and one link, I will continue to do that. If my point needs to be made in a longer form, I will write a blog here and link to it on Facebook.

I hope you will take the time to follow me over to here and engage in debates. Enjoy the distraction-free environment, and take the time to make your case.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sure, Let’s Talk about the Electoral College. Everyone else is!

The Electoral College has been in the news a lot lately. Part of the reason is because, again this year, the winning candidate did not have the most popular votes of all the candidates. Another recent time this happened was in 2000, when Bush beat Gore in the Electoral College (and the Supreme Court), but not in the popular vote.

 

In fact, studies have been done that show that a person can win an election with as little as 27% of the popular vote. It does not seem to make sense that a person can be elected when 3/4 of the people think someone else is better.

 

The counter argument to that is that if the candidates knew the election would be decided by popular vote and not electoral votes, they would have run their campaigns totally differently. States that would get a lot of attention in a popular vote election are largely ignored in an election decided by electors.

 

When I was in high school, our social studies teacher said that it is not a good idea to scrap the electoral college because there isn’t a better system. I used to think the Electoral College was a better system than a simple popular vote. A candidate could campaign in the six largest cities, promising all sorts of things to people in urban centers, totally ignore the rural parts of the country, and still win the election. The electoral college mitigates that, somewhat.

 

Lately I have been hearing arguments that with the current Electoral College, the same thing is happening. Certain states, like CA, TX, and NY, are largely ignored because they are solidly in one political camp.

 

The original reason for the Electoral College, in addition to creating a compromise between individual rights and state’s rights, was because at that time the Founding Fathers thought the average citizen didn’t know enough about political issues to make an informed choice. News traveled very slowly, so the average citizen couldn’t possibly know about all the goings-on in election campaigns. They elected people (electors) who would devote time to understanding the issues and vote in the best interest of the people who elected them.

 

Today’s citizen is much more informed, and can get news quickly, so the argument that electors are needed because they are more knowledgeable than the general public is no longer true. The average citizen has as much information as any elector, and can make his own informed decision.

 

That’s what I thought. Then I read this:

 

 

Fake news has been a scourge since before Facebook; the existence of that social media platform has only made the situation worse. And people are being taken in by these stories hook, line, and sinker. (The president-elect himself has referenced some news stories that turned out to be wrong.) The article claims that the average student does not have the critical thinking skills to distinguish real news from fake news and to seek out primary sources to verify or refute stories.

 

So maybe we do need electors who know more about the process than the average person.

 

Unfortunately, that’s not the way electors are chosen. They are politicians or party faithful who will vote for their party if their party wins.

 

Maybe we do keep the Electoral College, but modify choosing of electors. Have potential electors run for the position and campaign for it. Maybe, even among electors for the same candidate, one will have a better grasp of the issues, or at least the better ability to identify fake news stories.

 

Of course we will need to iron out the details. First and foremost, can we handle another 2000 candidates for electors? But as a thought exercise, it is worth considering, and may give us ideas on how to change the current system.

 

I also have other ideas for voting differently. They will help with the situation like we just had where a lot of votes were not as much for candidate A as they were against candidate B. I will save that for another blog.

 

In the meantime, I’m sure there will be a lot more talk about the electoral college in the near future.

How Donald Trump will Unite America (This is me writing, so it’s not what you think)

During the NBC News election coverage Tuesday night, some of the reporters and analysts pointed out a contradiction in the way political campaigns are run. People running for President talk about building bridges and bringing Americans together. Yet, during campaigns, they focus on how they can tailor their message to reach Black voters, women voters, Hispanic voters, etc. This is totally contradictory to the message of bringing Americans together.

I was disheartened that I couldn’t think of a way to ever get past this.

We may have found one.

Here is how I think Trump is going to unite America.

During his campaign, Trump made derogatory comments about the following groups:

  • Mexicans
  • Muslims
  • Women
  • Blacks
  • Democrats
  • Establishment Republicans
  • Jews (it wasn’t as front and center as the others, but it was there)
  • (If I left out your group, I apologize, and welcome your input)

That’s an interesting set of categories. Many have views that oppose others in the group. If all these groups could work together on a common issue, it would be a powerful force.

There is a common issue for all of them – President Trump.

At least, I hope these groups band together to make sure there is no second term for Trump. Better, I hope they make changes at the local level that will trickle up the chain so they affect the nation.

I’m glad there may be a way to unify America, finally.

I’m just sorry it’s going to take four years of a Trump presidency to accomplish this.

For people who were slighted by Trump’s words throughout the campaign, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But there is work to do.

But, we can stop one terrorist… Right?

I am alarmed at the frequency of mass shootings in this country. I wrote this post previously:

Straight from the Source – Me

It’s sad that Tom Tomorrow’s job has been made that much easier – all he needs to do is re-run that cartoon every so often.

As the cartoon suggests, whenever a mass shooting occurs, I hear the arguments that if more people in the theater, school, nightclub, etc., had guns, the mass shooting would have been stopped with no loss of life, except, possibly, the shooter.

Let’s picture the scenario. We’re at a busy night club. It’s actually a cowboy bar. Texas allows open carry, so it is a good bet that many patrons will be carrying. A miscreant enters, intent on shooting as many American infidels as he can.

As he enters, he realizes he will not get past the bouncer without being stopped, so he charges past, pulling out his Uzi in the process, ready to mow down innocent partiers.

Joe, a beefy-looking dude who is a supporter of open carry, sees the bad guy and yells, “Gun!” Instantly the house lights go on, the music stops, and 20 men and women on the dance floor have their weapons trained on the bad guy. Realizing the futility of his situation, the gunman drops his weapon and puts his arms in the air. The crowd holds him at gunpoint until police arrive to take him away. Afterwards, the party continues, with the patrons congratulating each other and singing “God Bless the USA.”

Great story, huh? Let’s let it sink in and see how masterfully it was pulled off.

OK? Ready to go on?

Now, let’s see how many ways this scenario is unlikely to happen as I just wrote it.

First, there is the notion that many people will be packing. Question is, will they be carrying all the time, or will they leave their guns with their friends while they do the Texas Two-Step? It’s likely many will be carrying, but I suspect not all.

Will the shooter be stopped at the door? Possibly, but since Texas is an open carry state, it’s possible the bouncer won’t care or even notice that he has a gun.

Will the patrons identify the gunman and draw before he can do any damage? It’s not likely. At Columbine, there was an armed marshal on site, and before he even knew anything was happening, several children had already been killed. At Pulse nightclub in Orlando, patrons first thought the shots were part of the music, then others thought it came from firecrackers. Again, people died before anyone realized anything was going on.

Will the music stop suddenly and guns be drawn quickly and effectively? It’s not likely the music will stop right away and the house lights would come on. People would probably not have the immediate presence of mind to do that. If they realized there was shooting, their first inclination would be to duck and hide, not to run to the light switch.

Remember, shooting is starting in a dark nightclub with loud music. Will all the gun-toting patrons know exactly who was shooting and properly draw their weapons? Police officers, who have been in training, have to navigate a Hogan’s Alley type obstacle range, where they must shoot criminals quickly, but must not harm any civilians. I’ve played video games that simulate Hogan’s Alley, and even though I didn’t shoot any civilians, I wasn’t able to get the criminals on the first shot. My accuracy was off. The actual Hogan’s Alley exercise is done with no other people in your way, and with no distracting lights or noise. It is still extremely difficult.

Now picture the scene a bit differently. A gunman pulls out a weapon. Amidst the loud noise and flashing lights, some patrons, certainly not all, realize something is going on.  Remember, these people very likely have less training than a police officer, the room is loud, the lights are distracting, and a sense of chaos is starting to spread.

Will the patrons pull their guns? Will they be able to keep the gunman immobile? Will they be able to find the gunman? Will they accidentally shoot someone else, or themselves? Will  they freeze in their tracks?

The situation is suddenly a lot less heroic, but is much more likely. The presence of guns did not help the situation; in fact, it is easy to see how it could make the situation a lot worse.

People who advocated arming more people will no doubt say my second scenario is far-fetched. They may even try to poke holes in it. I believe with calm, honest reflection, you will see that the chaotic scenario is much more likely than the successful one.

To me, still, the best way to keep the situation from happening is to keep the shooter’s gun from getting into the mix. Prevent him from getting a weapon in the first place. Or, in the words of Joshua from WarGames about “Global Thermonuclear War:” “The only way to win is not to play.”

How Not to Stop Terrorism

There is a chess book called How Not to Play Chess. The book shows all the things that good chess players must not do (for example, “Avoid mistakes” and “Don’t relinquish the initiative.”). It is a different way to approach chess strategy, but looking at the game from that different vantage point helped me see many different ways to improve my game.

This essay is in the same vein. Let’s outline some of the strategies that will not stop terrorism.

Building a wall will not work. In WWII, the French built the Maginot line, a string of defenses to keep the Germans out. What did the Germans do? They went around the wall, through Belgium and the Netherlands. If Mexicans are determined to find a way in, they will. They can take boats up the Gulf Coast. Cuban refugees took rickety boats across Atlantic ocean waters to Florida. Traversing the Gulf would be easier, though still treacherous. Desperate people will take extreme measures to survive. They already have.

And that is only the average Mexican, with very modest means. Think how much easier it would be for a well-financed terrorist to bypass a wall. Remember the tunnels the Mexican drug cartels built into Arizona? I predict that if the wall gets anywhere close to being built, there will be a network of underground tunnels before it is ever finished.

So, a wall won’t help.

Another suggestion I’ve heard is killing all terrorists. Upon closer analysis, this idea makes building a wall seem as normal as filling potholes.

Ted Cruz talked about bombing ISIS until the “sand glows in the dark.” Trump said he would “bomb the shit out of them.” These simplistic taunts – I hesitate to call them policies – have major flaws.

Bombing strikes of this magnitude are bound to inflict casualties upon the citizenry we are supposedly trying to protect. Many years ago, I read in a “News of the Weird”-type publication of strange-but-true news stories. In a northern town, a floating chunk of ice – a mini-iceberg – was threatening to damage a causeway. Town engineers devised a plan to use explosives to destroy the mini-iceberg. The explosion destroyed the causeway.

Even if unintended casualties were avoided, killing ISIS fighters will not discourage people from joining the fight. In fact, it will only encourage them. These are people who have subverted mainstream Islam and enticed their followers by saying that seventy-two virgins await martyrs for the cause in heaven. To paraphrase a line from Blazing Saddles, we can’t bomb them; it will only make them angry.

To have a fully successful bombing campaign, then, it must kill absolutely every ISIS fighter and potential ISIS sympathizer. Since new converts join because their friends are killed by the enemy’s bombs, that could potentially mean everyone – ISIS fighters, ISIS supporters, Muslims, Arabs, liberals – would need to be killed. You see where I’m going with this?

So, bombing won’t work either.

What will stop terrorism?

The title of this piece suggests that I don’t know what will work, but I hope it is plainly obvious to people what won’t work. The two policies I discussed won’t work because they don’t consider the mind of the terrorist. Building a wall assumes that terrorists will think, “Wow, that’s a huge wall. I’ll never get past it. I give up.” Bombing assumes the terrorists will think, “If they bomb us, I might be killed. That would be a bad thing. I better stop fighting.” Those thought processes are naive.

We need to try to consider the mind of a terrorist. I suspect one driving thought process is “we have a mission to convert all people to Islam – the right form of Islam. If we stop before that goal is completed, we are not being true to Allah.” Building walls and dropping bombs would be ineffective against this thinking.

I believe any approach to fighting terrorism needs to start with the terrorists’ hearts and minds.

Let’s discuss their beliefs with them. At the very least, it will show that we are interested, and validation goes a long way toward mutual understanding. If we press many terrorists, I suspect we will find very few who are willing to die for their beliefs.

The die-hard terrorists will need to be defeated militarily. There is probably no other good option. But, we must also point out to the wannabe terrorists that the die-hards we are stopping do not represent the vast majority of Muslims in the world.

We then can find out what the actual bee in their bonnet is. I doubt it is that everyone is an infidel and must be stopped. There may be issues of religious persecution, economic inequality, and the like. While these issues are not easy to solve, there is at least hope of a solution.

People may say this is a naive hope. I think it’s equally naive to think that we can stop terrorism with useless walls or indiscriminate bombing. At least, if we try to work on their hearts and minds, any unintended consequences will be more positive.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All

I could have made this a snarky essay and posted it with the title, and nothing else. But I’m starting to realize that change in political discourse needs to start somewhere. So I thought I would make a small overture here.

Jon Stewart famously made an appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire” program, at the time hosted by Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. Stewart asked Carlson, a Republican commentator, to say something nice about John Kerry. He also asked Begala, former aide in President Clinton’s administration, to say something nice about George W. Bush. Both hosts flubbed the challenge, then went on to defend the deliberately antagonistic format of “Crossfire.” Here are Begala’s recollections of the interview.

I’m not going to flub this one.

I am glad I’m writing this, because I’m not used to thinking about Republican politicians positively, and, along with taking a step toward common ground, it’s an interesting exercise. So, here goes:

Donald Trump – He is a successful businessman, and a master of marketing. His name is recognized worldwide, and he has built some exceptional buildings, several of which are synonymous with Trump. Yes, he has had a lot of failed business ventures, but that is only because he is not afraid to take chances. That is the right mindset to be a successful businessman.

Ted Cruz – He is very strong in his beliefs, which is more than a lot of politicians can say. He takes his Evangelical background and Conservative beliefs very seriously, and is not afraid to take a stand, even if it is far removed from the norm. In a very short time, he has become an important figure in politics.

Mitch McConnell – The senior senator from Kentucky, McConnell has been in the Senate since 1985, which shows he is responsive to Kentuckians, and is well liked. Throughout his tenure, he has been majority whip, minority leader, and majority leader; in addition to the respect of Kentuckians, he also has the respect of the Senate.

I hope this doesn’t come across as faint praise. I am impressed by these accomplishments. It takes years of hard work to achieve what these three, and every other Presidential candidate and Congressional leader, have achieved.

And I am also sure that these three have the best interests of America in mind…

OK, I want to hedge my bet here. I can’t be absolutely certain Trump has the best interests of America in mind. His lack of an expressed position on issues, his changing rhetoric, and his grandstanding, all suggest to me that he may be in this for himself, either to somehow improve his business cachet, or just to have people talk about him and have his ego stroked.

As for Cruz and McConnell, I do truly believe that they have the best interests of America in mind. It’s just that their vision of what is best for America differs a great deal from mine, and from many Democrats (and more than a few Republicans). That is what is great about America; that people with totally differing viewpoints can all express them.

I truly wish the debates and discussions over issues were more focused on why one person believes what he does and why the other belief system is not correct. Let’s focus more on these ideas, and less on people’s hand size.