The Stillson Problem

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I’m about to head out for our summer vacation, then I have a bunch of business travel to get done, which means I won’t be posting as much in the next few weeks (I can hear the cheering from here). I’m hoping that by the time I get back fully in the saddle, the silliness which is the weird political bachelorette contest currently being carried out by the Republican Party will have come closer to some kind of sane conclusion, a conclusion which doesn’t include Donald Trump.

If you are a movie fan, you may have come across the 1983 adaptation by David Cronenberg of the Stephen King classic The Dead Zone (it’s streaming on Netflix). It stars Christopher Walken as a guy who suffers a brain injury and acquires the mysterious power to see glimpses into the future of people he touches. Enter Gregg Stillson: a brash, independently-minded senator (played excellently by Martin Sheen); a self-made man who worships his creator.

Stillson is a populist who believes in straight talk. His catch phrase is “Hot dog, somebody gives a damn.” Stillson draws large crowds of supporters who are fed up and “not going to take it anymore.” At one point, Stillson grabs the hand of our hero in a ‘Grip and Grin’ moment, and Walken sees Stillson as president pressing the big red button which sets off the nuclear exchange to end all humanity. Walken then spends the rest of the movie plotting his preemptive assassination. It’s a decent movie, one which has stayed with me more than most King adaptations.

What is so disturbing is that Trump and Stillson are eerily similar. They are both self-made blowhards who strike a populist note and garner way more political respect than they deserve. It seems there is a certain fragment of the GOP base that is completely OK with supporting a bigoted misogynist with no real answers and only a vague grasp of the issues. It’s horrifying, but not surprising.

By the time the dust has settled, it’s inevitable that the GOP will have coalesced on an “anyone but Trump” ticket — probably featuring two from Kasich, Rubio and Fiorina — and Trump will either go back to his board room and sulk or will run as a third party candidate, much like Ross Perot (remember him?). All Trump will have done is shine a light on the GOP, which will likely remind many minorities and women why they don’t vote GOP. At least that’s my sincere hope. I really don’t think that Trump will prevail, but just for grins, stream The Dead Zone and see how well you sleep after that.

Have a great summer.

It’s Happened Again

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Let me predict what we will find out about the shooter in the appalling church massacre that happened last night. I’m doing this without benefit of much more than the basic CNN headlines this morning.

He’s a loner, not popular in high school or college. Probably bullied. Probably doesn’t get on well with women of any kind. He will have a history of mental health issues and/or drug problems. Those drugs will likely be from his parents’ medicine cabinet. Those problem will have gone under-treated or entirely untreated.

He’s probably very focused on guns and all things gun. I’ll give you any bet that his family has a good sized gun collection, which he used extensively. It’s also likely that school and perhaps family medical professionals were unable to escalate the care he was receiving because of reporting limits and patient confidentiality.

How can I be so sure that I’ll hit the bulls-eye on most of these? It’s easy; they are always like that. I’ve ranted about this issue so many times in this blog, it feels like a broken record. This country has two huge problems, simply put: mental health and guns. Our medical system is horrible at spotting and escalating mental health problems, in part because of resources and in part because the draconian patient privacy regulations mean that what they can do is drastically curtailed.

This country has always had a weird relationship with mental health. Our Puritan roots lead us to regard it as a character flaw to be mocked, feared or hidden rather than treated. It’s true that in earlier times it was possible for people to be cast into psych ward hell for the wrong reasons, but the pendulum has swung back too far.

When Reagan closed the majority of mental hospitals in the early 80s, it set the direction. Now, our inner cities are littered with the broken remains of the homeless and mentally ill — a growing group of which are returning veterans. We have a massive problem of over prescription and abuse of narcotic pain meds.

Now let’s add in widely available guns held as a political third rail by a vocal and powerful gun lobby, and there is a recipe for disaster. I have said this so many times it’s becoming a cliché, but it bears repeating. The UK and the US have so much in common. We speak alike, we love our kids, our teams and our countries. We think alike (in many ways), but the one thing I can think of where our cultures differ dramatically is in guns.

In the US in 2013, the deaths by firearms per 100K of population was 10.64. In the UK, the same prorated number for 2010 was 0.25. That’s 42 times the death rate. I can’t think of a single other area where our societies differ so dramatically.

As I write this, I see that he’s been caught, apparently alive. The president will speak, people will hold candle-lit vigils. There will be a trial with an insanity defense, nothing will change, and we will all go back to usual. Until the next time.

Not My Circus…

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As an old fashioned European liberal who actually voted for the UK Labor Party (that’s as close to socialist when compared to any US party) and who doesn’t have the right to vote in the US, I should probably stay out of politics over here completely. But really?! Donald Trump? Really?

We shouldn’t be surprised that The Donald is officially entering the GOP 2016 circus. Lord knows there are enough clowns already in that race. Trump befuddles me. He’s gone broke several times and done more harm to the New York skyline than 9/11, but yet he’s supposedly worth $8 Bn and plans to fund his own campaign. I’m sure the acres of publicity he will garner from this stunt will be worth it, but we all look a little ridiculous. To add insult to injury, he suggested that Oprah Winfrey would make a great vice president. Yes, and so would my American Bulldog, Hedwig.

I don’t mind that his absurd, self-aggrandizing exercise in media titillation will clog up a couple of news cycles, but his name recognition and notoriety will likely mean that he will qualify for the GOP debates starting in August. The criteria Fox plans to use is name recognition and popularity running up to the debate. Even though Voldemort himself recently polled better than most of the GOP field, Trump will be in the hunt. That will leave us with a nationally televised debate featuring a reality TV show mogul who can say or do anything he wants without any requirement that he follow the beat of any drum other than his own.

Trump argues that’s part of his strength. He’s not answerable to anyone else. Hm, let’s think. Can we recall any ego maniacal, populist, rabble-rousing politician who simply told civilized norms to take a hike in his quest for power? Yeah, me too. Is it hyperbolic to speak of The Donald in those terms, of course. However, in a celebrity- and media-drenched society where goldfish have been shown to have longer attention spans than most Americans, it’s a little worrying.

The other thing to think about is what China or Russia must make of this billionaire buffoon becoming a candidate for the big red button. If Trump develops into a self-funding serious contender, things may not go well.

There’s an old Polish saying — “Not my circus…not my monkeys” — meaning it’s not my problem, so I shouldn’t worry about it. To the extent that I can’t vote and wouldn’t vote GOP if I could, it’s not. To the extent that it affects my country and my family and my company, it is. This is one monkey that could really hurt the circus, and I do find that worrying.

The Politics of Search

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Now that we spend so much of our time and money online it’s hard and probably unrealistic to separate the product from the politics. By the time you get to be as big and powerful as Google you can expect to trip over issues on a regular basis. Today is no exception. I honestly don’t know why Google backed the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which appears to be a right wing-nut lobby group pushing back on multiple government oversight issues…but apparently they are ending their support because the group is one of the many on the right practicing active climate change denial.
I have to imagine that Google is hoping that the military moves against ISIS (or is it now ISIL) will keep this story to a very short news cycle. Google is a huge player in the DC lobby ecosystem and it has undeniably paid off. Although they are assailed on many fronts in the EU and Asia the US remains a very safe harbor. This kind of tin-eared support of anti oversight groups makes sense on an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” basis…but you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas. Google has been wildly successful in cultivating their reputation as cool  guys…albeit with a market cap twice the GDP of Scotland. Getting caught making nice with the folks who fervently supported Florida’s Stand Your Ground legislation won’t sit well with many.
The trick here is to lobby ferociously  but do it from a moral high ground…you stand in danger of losing that high ground when you share it with folks who are spending a lot of time and money trying to convince the world that the crazy climate change we are enjoying isn’t man influenced. Indeed Google itself is based in the same California which is currently in massive drought and in danger of burning down and blowing away. Let’s see if this story has legs.