I Cede the Rest of My Time …

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. … I am embarrassed that these gentlemen have to sit here today. The President says, “Read the Transcript.” Actually, it’s not a transcript, it’s a Memorandum – but I did read it. What I saw was an American President asking the leader of a foreign country to help him against another American. It was despicable. He is obviously unworthy of the office he holds, and of us. But what is equally despicable is that our Republican members are too cowed, too gutless, too worried about losing their own little hallowed seats, to do their Constitutional duty. Collegiality is important, but this is more so. You know — you know — what he did was wrong. Donald Trump will always be a rip in our national fabric, but we can mend that and move on. What is going to be harder to recover from is the realization that at this moment in our history, half the members of the Congress of the United States abandoned their sacred duty … simply to save their own hides.

I cede the rest of my time …

A Conversation in a Bar

A friend and I were perched on stools at a table in the darkish far corner of a Wisconsin tavern located outside the Madison liberal bubble. The rest of the customers were sitting at the bar enjoying a refresher after a long day on the job – made harder by the unusual cold that had gripped the state. Our conversation had – not atypical of my conversations 😉 – turned to politics. Even so, we were talking in low tones, and the specific topic was not an emotive one – the psychological moral foundations Jonathan Haidt lists in The Righteous Mind, and Mr. Haidt’s description of how liberals’ and conservatives’ gut instincts give respectively different weights to what are all indisputably worthy values. At least I was only vaguely aware that a man had started playing a video game within a few feet of us. Having apparently heard at least part of our conversation, he approached our table – mid-30’s, Caucasian, dark longish beard, not large in stature, stocking cap on his head pulled down almost to his eyebrows — pardoned himself for interrupting, and, not at all aggressively, proceeded on what was a fairly long monologue — his frustration and resentment evident although his tone was even – about what his life was like: married with a child, how he and his wife both worked, how he had gone to school and worked for a couple of companies before starting his own business, how he had thousands of dollars’ worth of tools in his truck but couldn’t get ahead. His friends in the trades felt the same way.  “Child care costs so much.” “I’d be better off working for $7.50 an hour – then I’d get assistance. They get assistance. I get nothing.” “The older generation doesn’t get it – they could get ahead by working hard. We can’t.” “The middle class is dead — there is no more middle class.” “Social security is there for you [no offense intended or taken; I am obviously of Social Security-eligible age 😉 ] — do you think it’s going to be there for me? [Rhetorical – clearly he thinks not].”

While we – at least I – will probably never be able to viscerally feel the indignation this gentleman feels, my friend and I have sympathy for what he and so many Americans are facing, and he could see that; our tones remained even, as they should have – Americans civilly exchanging contrasting viewpoints. My friend ventured: Was he for Trump? “Trump all the way,” he replied. Mr. Trump wasn’t perfect, but finally, someone was taking on China, somebody was trying to bring back the middle class. I indicated that at least one of his concerns – Social Security – could be fixed if the politicians got their heads together; he respectfully waved that off. I asked what he thought of Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate with the seemingly widest working class appeal. “He’s just in it to put money in his pocket. That’s what all politicians do – just put money in their pockets.”

I’ve probably mentioned The Righteous Mind in these pages more than any other book I’ve read since retiring. Since it seems so blatantly obvious to me that President Trump is a self-interested blackguard willing to sacrifice national interests for his own while doing nothing to objectively better the circumstances of those who most fervently believe in him (caveat: he has well served anti-abortionists by packing the federal courts with young conservative judges), I have increasingly reflected upon why approximately 40% of my fellow citizens feel so vehemently differently than I think they should feel about the President. Putting aside the bigots, I reject the notion that the vast majority of the President’s supporters are “deplorable.” They are not stupid. So what is it? Is it gut resistance to the country’s inevitable technological and demographic change? Antipathy to cultural change – a longing for a time when – to quote Carroll O’Connor’s and Jean Stapleton’s Archie and Edith Bunker – “Girls were girls and men were men” and we “Didn’t need no welfare state; everybody pulled his weight”? Resentment at obviously condescending intellectuals? Outrage at the disparagement of religious faith that many of them (and I) consider central to our beings? A lack of hope born of the realization that they’re too many touchdowns behind to catch up no matter how hard they work? A product of propaganda – one turns to sources with which one is most comfortable, and Fox News commentators and alt-right social media outlets, driven by profit, have given them tangible targets to blame?

Probably all of the above. Clearly many of our people have been overtaken by despair. Despite all of his transparent bluster and lying, a segment see the President “telling it like it is” – that he’s given voice to their anger that they’ve been betrayed by the educated and affluent class that they trusted to lead the nation. Judging by President Obama’s electoral majorities, many of them believed in him, but as uncomfortable as it is for some progressives to acknowledge, Mr. Obama did little to help them. Mr. Trump at least provides the impression that he hears them together with the satisfaction of sticking it in the eye of the snobs who have undeniable disdain for them.

These divisions are deep. In its retrospective on President Ronald Reagan at the time of Mr. Reagan’s death, Newsweek stated, “[At the time Mr. Reagan became President] [s]erious people began to wonder whether the presidency was too big a job for any one [person].” One cannot help but ponder how any one person can adequately address the sharp divisions and diverse challenges we have today.

It had reached the hour my friend and I had planned to part. We rose from our bar stools, stood. I said to the young gentleman who had engaged us – gently, because we had had a completely amicable exchange, and I had benefited much more from our talk than he had — “I fear that you’re placing your faith in a mirage.”

“I base it on facts”, he replied with assurance, but without rancor. I didn’t ask from whom he gets his facts. It was time to go. It was dark outside, and unseasonably cold.

Contrasting Matt Bevin and Roy Moore with … Foxconn

Liberal talking heads are currently reveling in Kentucky Democratic Governor-Elect Andy Beshear’s apparent (albeit narrow) victory over KY Republican Governor Matt Bevin. While I understand a certain amount of liberal chortling – President Trump held a big rally in Kentucky the night before the election, unwisely declaring that the outcome would be a referendum on him — Gov. Bevin’s electoral weakness in a solid Republican state, although particularly heartening to a couple of readers of these pages literally or viscerally closer to the Bluegrass State than I am, was seemingly due to local issues related to his abrasive manner and the state’s public teachers’ organized and spirited opposition. I don’t think any pundit is opining that even a centrist Democratic presidential nominee can win Kentucky’s Electoral College votes in 2020. Likewise, Alabama voters’ narrow 2017 selection of U.S. AL Sen. Doug Jones over former AL Chief Judge Roy Moore – the latter then facing multiple credible accusations of sexual misconduct – seems an understandable idiosyncratic result in an otherwise-solidly Republican state. As with Kentucky, I doubt any commentator considers Sen. Jones’ election a harbinger of electoral risk for any Republican presidential nominee in Alabama in 2020.

That said, Wisconsin’s 2020 Electoral College votes could in part hinge on a local issue because it is the rare local issue that can be tied directly to Mr. Trump. As most are well aware, in late June, 2018, to significant fanfare, Mr. Trump, together with Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou and such Republican luminaries as then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan and then-WI Gov. Scott Walker, broke ground for a Foxconn manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant, WI, in the Racine/Kenosha southeastern corner of the state between Chicago and Milwaukee. Mr. Trump offered lengthy remarks at the ceremony (more on that below). Below this paragraph are links to three articles respectively published in July, September, and October of 2019, recounting: that Foxconn has reduced the number of jobs it projects for the facility from 13,000 to 1,500; that Foxconn has canceled the announced 20 million-square foot manufacturing facility while instead breaking ground on a 1 million-square-foot facility [with its announced operation commencement date to be at or about the time of the 2020 presidential election (wink, wink)]; that the implementation of Foxconn “Innovation Centers” around the state, projected to provide hundreds of sophisticated jobs, has been suspended; claims that Foxconn has a history of delivering a fraction of its promises and that the Mount Pleasant project is a “snow job”; and displacement of hundreds of homeowners allegedly “railroaded” by local governmental deceit.

https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/10/20689021/foxconn-wisconsin-governor-jobs-tony-evers-manufacturing

https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2019/09/owners-near-foxconn-say-they-were-misled-now-their-homes-are-gone/

https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/23/20929453/foxconn-innovation-centers-on-hold-wisconsin-mount-pleasant-trump-deal

On July 31, 2019, the W.E. Upjohn Institute issued a report, “Costs and Benefits of a Revised Foxconn Project,” in response to a request by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. A link to the report is below. The Upjohn analyst, Timothy Bartik, makes clear in the report that neither he nor Upjohn was compensated for the analysis. He indicates:  that even a reduced Foxconn arrangement that follows the credit rates of the original arrangement would result in incentives to Foxconn in the range of $100K to $200K a job, compared with average U.S. incentives to prospective employers of $24K a job; that the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s report that the project would fiscally break even in 2042-43 was “incomplete and overly optimistic”; and that “the Foxconn deals are far greater than … the [recent] Amazon deals in New York or Virginia.”  Mr. Bartik concludes:

“The most important conclusion of this analysis is that … a revised Foxconn incentive contract, which offers similar credit rates to the original contract, has … incentives [that] are so costly per job that it is hard to see how likely benefits will offset these costs.”

https://research.upjohn.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1244&context=reports

A link to the transcript of the June, 2018, Mount Pleasant groundbreaking ceremony attended by Messrs. Trump, Gou, Walker, and Ryan is included below (given what has transpired, it is not tinged, but rather drips, with irony).

Amongst his remarks, the President declared:

“Moments ago, we broke ground on a plant that will provide jobs for much more than 13,000 Wisconsin workers.”

“Terry [Gou] is a friend of mine and I recommended Wisconsin, in this case… this was something that just seemed right.”

“I said, ‘Terry, this place is such a great place.’ … And I said to Terry, ‘This would be an incredible place.’”

“So I had this incredible company going to invest someplace in the world — not [in the U.S.] necessarily. And I will tell you they wouldn’t have done it here, except that I became President …. And I immediately thought of the state of Wisconsin.”

Mr. Walker chimed in: “Well, thanks, Mr. President. As you mentioned, you got the ball rolling …. And we couldn’t be more proud to have [Foxconn] … in the state of Wisconsin.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-foxconn-facility/

Given this apparently undisputable Foxconn fiasco, it would seem that any Democratic Presidential nominee should, by merely uttering, “Foxconn,” whenever entering Wisconsin, easily carry the state against Mr. Trump. It will obviously not be that simple.

An irrelevant but irresistible aside: in the transcript of the groundbreaking ceremony, one finds that the President also declared: “I just realized the other day, they told me — when we won the state of Wisconsin, it hadn’t been won by a Republican since [President] Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Did you know that? And I won Wisconsin. And I like Wisconsin a lot, but we won Wisconsin. And Ronald Reagan — remember, Wisconsin was the state that Ronald Reagan did not win. And that was in 1952. [My emphasis].” (In fact, Mr. Eisenhower won Wisconsin again in 1956; Republican President Richard Nixon won Wisconsin in 1960 (in a losing effort), 1968, and 1972; and – certainly not least – Republican President Reagan carried Wisconsin in both 1980 and 1984.) The description of Mr. Trump coming to mind is that attributed to and never denied by former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson …

The Impeachment Kaleidoscope: Part III

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Parts I and II (which are immediately below), I would start with those 😉

The most impressive figure in our current impeachment saga is obviously Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. She is literally running the clock down on the President. Through the continual drip of damning information about Mr. Trump’s coercion of the Ukrainians — including this week’s testimony by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — Ms. Pelosi is shaping the attitude of that sliver of the electorate – I would guess between 10 and 20 percent — who aren’t already irrevocably committed to or against the President. She has so far withstood both the Republicans’ efforts to speed the process (the longer this goes, the shorter the President’s and their time to politically recover) and kept the inquiry focused on the President’s pressure on the Ukrainians (which polls show that a majority of Americans viscerally consider wrong) despite her own caucus’ desire to broaden it (which will blur the voters’ focus and give the Republicans more opportunity for distraction).

I’ve mentioned in these pages my concern that Congressional Impeachment proceedings would ultimately redound to the President’s benefit. Now, I’m not so sure. Although the Republicans’ impeachment initiative against President Bill Clinton ultimately politically benefited the Democrats, what Mr. Trump indisputably did with the Ukrainians seems different in kind from Mr. Clinton’s inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his attendant falsehoods (although I believe in retrospect that Mr. Clinton should have been removed from office for perjury). Since Ms. Pelosi has made it plain that she considers Mr. Trump manifestly unfit for the presidency, I hope she hopes (more on that below) that for the good of the country, Mr. Trump will be removed from office after the Senate trial; but there may be even greater Democratic political advantage arising from the proceedings – in which the evidence of the President’s and his agents’ activities will be brought before the American people once in the House, and again in the Senate — if the President is acquitted. Any Senate acquittal is likely to look like a Republican whitewash to the electoral sliver Ms. Pelosi is targeting and will put swing state Republican Senators running for reelection in 2020 in a bind between Trump loyalists and independents. I would suggest that in the seemingly unlikely event that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conjures up a Senate procedural maneuver to avoid bringing the House’s articles to a vote, enough of the electorate will be sufficiently outraged that such would result in an even greater national electoral rout of Republicans – and perhaps cost Mr. McConnell his seat.

I indicated above that I hope that Ms. Pelosi hopes that for the good of the country, President Trump should be removed from office as expeditiously as possible. That said, I’m not sure that a presumed succession by Vice President Mike Pence helps Democrats’ 2020 national prospects. By the time any such transition would occur, it will be too late for another Republican to meaningfully challenge Mr. Pence for the 2020 GOP nomination; it seems overwhelming probable that the Republican base, infuriated at Mr. Trump’s removal, will rally to the Republican cause; and Mr. Pence would have the power of the incumbency. Query, had Senate Democrats not acquitted Mr. Clinton when he was impeached, whether a President Al Gore might not have eked out an Electoral College victory over then-TX Gov. George W. Bush in a contest in which Mr. Gore won the popular vote. President Gerald Ford lost by only the slimmest of margins to then-former GA Gov. Jimmy Carter in 1976 although Mr. Ford was politically weakened by his pardon of President Richard Nixon (a decision with which I agree) and the disappointment of the diehard followers of then-former CA Gov. Ronald Reagan. I pose this: given the demographics that are still likely to prevail in 2020, if Mr. Pence succeeds to the presidency without being directly implicated in the President’s untoward interactions with the Ukrainians or other malign activities, and has former U.S. Amb. Nikki Haley or perhaps U.S. FL Sen. Marco Rubio join his ticket, which likely Democratic presidential candidate can beat him? A candidate’s prospects are in part measured by the candidate’s opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. I would submit that contrasted with Mr. Pence, to many independents Mr. Biden could look too old, U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders could look too old and crazy, U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren could look too feisty and disruptive, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg could look too young and inexperienced, and U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris could look too “California.” Either U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker or U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar might have a chance against Mr. Pence, but they appear too far behind the other Democratic candidates to have a meaningful opportunity to secure the Democratic nomination and Mr. Pence’s election odds would still be better than either of theirs. Mr. Pence would have to finesse one hurdle similar to that faced by Mr. Ford: how to deal with the fallout – either way – arising from Trumpers’ demands that he pardon his predecessor.

As we plunge into the impeachment maelstrom, perhaps its facets are best considered not a kaleidoscope … but a roulette wheel. Clearly, much more to come.

The Impeachment Kaleidoscope: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

If the Wikipedia account of Hunter Biden is at all accurate, the younger Biden’s primary profession since his 1996 law school graduation has arguably been exploiting (albeit legally) his father’s name and position. While any parent can have sympathy for another parent’s desire to see his/her child get ahead, one would have to lack the sense God gave a goose not to recognize that a Ukrainian company’s selection of the son of the Vice President of the United States as a board member – a son who I understand had no specific qualifications for the post – was, legal or not, a blatant attempt by Ukrainian interests to curry favor with the United States. The elder Biden should have quashed the overture. While I continue to support the former Vice President (pending any meaningful advance by other moderate Democratic candidates), the Bidens’ actions or inactions relating to Hunter Biden’s appointment have sullied Mr. Biden’s candidacy and lowered my estimation of him. Their behavior was (there is no better word for it) … swampy.

The players who are perhaps drawing the most wry amusement from the President’s imbroglio are Chinese President Xi Jinping and his aides. In the midst of sensitive trade negotiations, Mr. Trump has called upon Mr. Xi and his administration to investigate allegedly illegal activities by the Bidens in China. If the President believes that he can pressure the Chinese due to the disruptions our tariffs can create for their economy, I would suggest that he has grossly misjudged the level of his leverage. Mr. Xi, unlike Mr. Trump, is President for Life. He can politically withstand a downturn in his economy much better than Mr. Trump can. Even aside from the fact that it would only hurt long term Chinese foreign policy and financial interests if Americans became inflamed because of Chinese meddling in American domestic politics, why would the China want to help Mr. Trump? From China’s point of view, his mercuriality and inconsistency have unsettled its and the world economy. I suspect that the Chinese leadership concluded some time ago that any successor to Mr. Trump will be better to deal with than he is – even if the American is tough, s/he will almost certainly be more consistent.

The player with the “X” on his back is former New York, NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has obviously emerged as the central figure in the Trump Administration’s efforts to influence the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens. While I have not researched the scope of a President’s Executive Privilege [I plan to read The United States v. Nixon in the near future ;)], I invite the savvy legal minds that read these pages to confirm or reject this premise: If Mr. Giuliani is subpoenaed to appear before Congress, his status as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer will not enable Mr. Trump to claim Attorney-Client privilege to limit Mr. Giuliani’s testimony about his discussions with Mr. Trump regarding the Ukrainian affair because there seems to be no legal claim or lawsuit between Mr. Trump and the Bidens related to Ukraine.  If Mr. Giuliani is himself facing criminal charges, he can obviously claim his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but may find himself facing a very difficult decision if offered broad immunity for his testimony about his Ukrainian-related communications with the President.

I mentioned in a recent post that we might have reached the end of what has arguably been a grace period our international adversaries have perhaps afforded Mr. Trump due to his emotional unpredictability tied to American military and financial might. As the impeachment proceedings obsess Mr. Trump, perhaps cause further erosion in his popular support, and probably cause him to become even more erratic, what could be the waning days of the Trump Presidency – i.e., before a President Pence would restore some sense of normalcy to American foreign policy – might be viewed as the best foreseeable window by Russia to secure its interests against Ukraine and NATO, by China to advance its positions in Hong Kong and Taiwan, by North Korea to leverage its military might to dominate the Korean Peninsula, and by the Taliban to overrun Afghanistan. Indeed, the President’s recent abrupt inexplicable withdrawal of our troops from the Syrian border so suddenly furthered Russian interests at the expense of our own as to make one ponder whether Mr. Putin hasn’t already decided that Mr. Trump’s value (perhaps merely as a Useful Idiot) is coming to an end.

My attempt to keep this post to a manageable length was, obviously, futile. I have left consideration of the person and some of the political aspects I find most intriguing in our impeachment saga to Part III, which I promise will bring this note to a merciful conclusion.

The Impeachment Kaleidoscope: Part I

Taken together, the Memorandum of the July 25, 2019, conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Whistleblower Complaint, which collectively provide details regarding efforts of Mr. Trump and his cohort to pressure Ukraine to investigate debunked claims related to former Vice President Joe Biden, Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and a phantom email server allegedly linked to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are literally the most disturbing things I have ever read. I don’t understand any of the material facts set forth by the Whistleblower (a man or woman of extraordinary courage) to be substantively disputed. Even without White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s recent de facto admission that the Administration’s investigations demand was a “quid pro quo” for the transmission of Congressionally-approved American aid to Ukraine or Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor’s recent Congressional testimony, I submit that any objective observer acquainted with the context of events surrounding the Presidents’ conversation would consider Mr. Trump’s requests of Mr. Zelenskyy to be abuse of American resources in coercive pursuit of his own self-interest – and counter to our national interest in helping to secure Ukraine’s defenses against Russia. Until reading these documents, I had not been in favor of Congressional Impeachment-related proceedings; I felt that the effort was politically counterproductive for those seeking Mr. Trump’s 2020 defeat, was certain to invite divisive antagonism, and was, from an objective standpoint, almost certainly destined to fail.

Now, I don’t see how we can stand by in the face of such flagrant malfeasance.

The rest of these are ancillary thoughts:

Quite a while ago, I posted a note about conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s 1998 book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors:  The Case Against Bill Clinton.  When I bought the book I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that Ms. Coulter had asserted that the bar for impeachable behavior was pretty low.  Ms. Coulter argued persuasively (and for her, given our current state of affairs, ironically) that the Founding Fathers considered grounds for impeachment in the American system to be primarily related to a moral standard, not necessarily linked or limited to legally criminal behavior, and that the standard was simply that the official “behave amiss.” I recommend the volume as a well-researched resource on impeachment issues.

I am obviously no fan of Vice President Mike Pence. That said, and although Mr. Pence has, as I noted recently, continually had me searching for additional synonyms for the word, “sycophant,” I fervently hope that he is not implicated in the President’s untoward interactions with the Ukrainians or other malign activities. Given my view that straightforwardness, support of our institutions, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for all of our citizens as persons supersede justified sincerely-held policy disagreements, I would, given the current state of our Republic, be comfortable with Mr. Pence serving as president until January, 2021. Joe Biden has called Mr. Pence a “decent guy” and South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg has called Mr. Pence “a super-nice guy.” Right now, what we most need is a President who doesn’t incite hate. Later, we as a people can decide whether he’s the right person to lead us into the future; at this point, the priority is to stabilize our ship, and Mr. Pence’s disposition is suited to do that.

The victims in this sordid drama for whom I have the utmost sympathy are Ukraine President Zelenskyy and the Ukranian people. They need America’s goodwill, financial and military assistance to withstand one of the world’s most powerful military forces. Given the President’s extortive overture, what does Mr. Zelenskyy do? Ukraine needs assistance now. If Mr. Zelenskyy he defies Mr. Trump, his country might not be there by January, 2021, when a Democrat might replace Mr. Trump. (One needs to look no further for an object lesson in Russian behavior than Crimea or the Turkish-Syrian border.) If he cooperates with the President, he will be labeled an American stooge by his domestic political rivals, undermined by Russia and Hungary, and run the risk that any Democrat that succeeds Mr. Trump might look less favorably on Ukraine. Mr. Trump’s despicable behavior has placed Mr. Zelenskyy squarely on the horns of an untenable dilemma.

The actors in this sordid drama for whom I have the most contempt are the President’s abetting Republican lickspittles. They know – they know – that he has compromised his office. And yet, for fear of their own careers, they – with the exception of U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, whom I would now support for President if ever again given the opportunity – cravenly cower in the corner, hoping that this cup will pass them by.  (I’m ashamed that my state is represented by Sen. Ron Johnson.)  In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt asserts that loyalty to a group is a more prominent intuitive characteristic in our people who lean conservative/Republican. Clearly, a significant share of Congressional Republicans, and I fear many of the President’s rank-and-file followers, have morphed from being Americans into being Trumpers.

Partisan bias remains a two-way street. During the week of October 21, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe pressed Democratic U.S. DE Sen. Christopher Coons to admit that even if Hunter Biden’s appointment to the Ukrainian board was legal, Joe Biden’s failure to quash the appointment was bad judgment on the elder Biden’s part. (More on the Bidens in Part II of this note.) Mr. Coons refused to admit to the obvious. Although I have found Mr. Coons a knowledgeable voice on foreign policy and a measured commentator of Mr. Trump’s inappropriate behavior, his unwillingness to concede the obvious smacked of Republicans’ partisan defense of Mr. Trump.

Benjamin Franklin noted in his Autobiography: “[As a young man] I grew convinc’d that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life, and I form’d … resolutions … to practice them ever while I lived [Emphasis Mr. Franklin’s].”

Clearly, few national politicians of either stripe are now drawing lessons from Mr. Franklin. The next segment of this note will appear in Part II.

On The Shallows

If asked to recommend to anyone of high school or greater age only one book I’ve read in retirement, the choice would be easy: The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr (not that long; a bit over 200 pages). I consider it a horror story, perfect for the Halloween season; Mr. Carr addresses “What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.” I would submit that it is yet scarier today than when published in 2010; given another decade’s passage, and even taking into account my readily-apparent Luddite tendencies, the book is arguably a description of what the Internet has done to the brains of many of our people. Delving too deeply into Mr. Carr’s text may dissuade a reader of this note from reading the book; thus, only a few snippets:

“What we’re trading away in return for the riches of the Net – and only a curmudgeon would refuse to see the riches – is what [Online Media Blogger Scott] Karp calls ‘our old linear thought process.’ Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts – the faster, the better.”

“I began to notice that the Net was exerting a much stronger and broader influence over me … It was then that I began worrying about my inability to pay attention to one thing for more than a couple of minutes … Even when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check e-mail, click links, do some Googling.”

“[T]he Net seizes our attention only to scatter it. We focus intensively on the medium itself, on the flickering screen, but we’re distracted by the medium’s rapid-fire delivery of competing messages and stimuli….If the slow progression of words across printed pages dampened our craving to be inundated by mental stimulation, the Net indulges it.”

“In reading online, Maryanne Wolf says, we sacrifice the facility that makes deep reading possible. We revert to being ‘mere decoders of information.’ Our ability to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction remains largely disengaged.”

“[Researcher Erping Zhu] found that [online readers’] comprehension declined as the number of links increased. Readers were forced to devote more and more of their … brain power to evaluating the links … That left … fewer cognitive resources to devote to understanding what they were reading.”

The following passage, well into the book, particularly resonated with me:

“In a recent essay, the playwright Richard Foreman [said], ‘I come from a tradition of Western culture in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality – a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self – evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.” As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” [we risk turning into] “pancake people – spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”’”

Mr. Carr does describe manners in which we as a people can safeguard against the dangers he trumpets; there is an extensive discussion of the brain’s neuroplasticity – i.e., the brain’s ability to re-form itself in response to new challenges. He acknowledges that “tuning out is not an option many of us would consider,” but offers that if the Web has addicted us with easy fixes of alluring data snippets, making a conscious and concerted effort to focus without distraction for longer periods on complex material can remake our brains in the same manner as one can strengthen muscles through physical training (my analogy, not his). He describes the reactions of Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT, who created groundbreaking programs in the 1960s, and then came to be alarmed by the manner in which even those who knew better came to perceive his creations:

“Weizenbaum had come to believe [that the] … great danger we face as we become more intimately involved with our computers … is that we’ll begin to lose our humanness, to sacrifice the very qualities that separate us from machines. The only way to avoid that fate, Weizenbaum wrote, is to have the self-awareness and the courage to refuse to delegate to computers the most human of our mental activities and intellectual pursuits, particularly ‘tasks that demand wisdom.’”

In the mid-90’s an executive in the cradle of Silicon Valley told me that what he loved about the Internet was the “Knowledge” it made available. I came to have the highest regard for him as we worked together; but if I saw him today, I’d gently suggest that the Internet has certainly proven to be an efficient purveyor of Information … but it remains up to us to maintain the mental diligence and discipline to develop the connections that yield Knowledge.

Please don’t download The Shallows – buy a hard copy ;).