It’s Always Mr. Smith

There are three subject matters that have consumed most of my time. The matters are, in order of interest, woo-woo, religion and politics. What they have in common is that they are the greatest fields of inquiry where you get to see human beings acting short of reason for the sake of the magical. They’re the only fields of human activity that operate more on wishes and wants than actualities. And for that reason, I can’t see spending my days doing anything else but being fascinated by these topics.

Woo-woo and religion remain my favorite topics. I’m really surprised when I hear someone isn’t interested in UFOs or ghosts or gods or cryptids or Atlantis claims or ancient Egypt and the nonsense that’s gone into that long gone civilization. What else have you been doing with your time? This is so much fun. Even though everyone starts (where I did) with awe and wonder of these mysteries, many of us end up at a point of realizing there simply are no ghosts, no bigfeets, no gods, no Atlantis, and no silly pyramid powers. (There are, however, UFOs. If something crosses the sky and you don’t know what it is, by definition, it’s a UFO. Flying saucers, however, well, that’s different story. Spoiler: No proof they exist either). Despite this, claims of such things don’t go away. People continue to “ghost hunt”, people continue to mistake settling homes for spirits, people continue to chalk up coincidence with being saved by an angel, people continue to make claims of alien abduction, and people still fill the pews in churches every Sunday. Some of us remain in the game and investigate cases because while we no longer expect to find ghosts and goblins, every case is a chance to teach a bit of science and logical reasoning. It’s a payoff even if the extraordinary is never found. And so I never expect to not be interested in these things.

Mr. Smith with his assorted henchmen was always behind every case Scooby Doo and the gang investigated but they kept at it. People needed mysteries solved and those pesky kids and their dog did the job. And somehow Fred was able to keep that shirt sparkling white despite how dirty the job is.

The third subject consuming matter of my time has given me less of a payoff. That is politics. While it is rather easy to show someone the ghost in the room is really the wind through a wall crack behind the curtain, it’s not always easy to show the Wizard of Oz behind the functions of government. But before I start to think there is no hope, I remind myself that I’m using the same tool kit I use when examining the latest psychic prediction: Skepticism, reason, science, and facts. Every government program that fails to deliver is a chance for us Libertarians to examine and point it out. Like skeptics in the ghost hunting business, if it’s all just wind through cracks in the walls moving the curtains, we get to say so. It’s just air, people.

But let’s be just as honest about our ability to make headway. We won’t make any more progress than ghost skeptics convincing people ghosts don’t exist as long as people want to believe ghosts exist.

Right now, I’m convinced the American public are somewhat institutionalized into thinking we need a cradle to grave government in place to make the world go around. Every election that I’ve been a part of has been the Most Important Election of My Lifetime. Every. One. It’s because we put so much faith into the myth of needing someone else to get things right for us. Going to the voting booth is akin to sitting in church every Sunday. Intercessory prayer doesn’t work. And neither does an appeal to a higher power of human run government. But it persists. People keep voting for saviors to fix healthcare, to fix the roads, to fix the scary immigrants sitch-ee-a-shun.

Nothing better demonstrates this than our current president, what he’s gotten away with and how his most ardent apologists respond.

Donald Trump has said so many false things it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them. These past seventy-two hours consumed more of my time than I’d like regarding the real reason he fired FBI Director, James Comey. And this is one issue out of the uncountable. The man has even lied about the number of floors in Trump Towers. It’s something that can easily be checked with your own eyes and he says differently. This president lives in a world he manufactures and wants everyone to put on the same glasses. And there are a lot of supporters who have invested so much into him, it’s turning into They Live out there.

So people will, if they’ve invested deeply into something, whether it is ghosts, goblins or a political figure, stick to it and let cognitive dissonance do its magic. That really makes it harder for skeptics to pull back the curtains. But nevertheless, we persist.

So why do I consider politics less of a pay off? Well because unlike the fun of flying saucers and ghosts, the failure to recognize poor government programming and everything that comes with it has real world consequences. * Every day it runs amuck is another day of excessive taxation. Another day Obamacare or its mutation remains in place is another day of skyrocketing medical costs. Every day of foreign meddling and failing government schools is another day I have to pick up the pieces. Every day the president lies and makes false claims is another day weeding through the false information in my caseload of false information that’s already too big for the briefcase I already carry.

Discouragement is always around the corner because nonsense is a Hydra of never ending heads. But I’m reminded that Batman still suits up and tries his damnedest to get those jokers back in the Arkham Insane Asylum even though every villain seems to escape so easily.

Each case of bullshit is a lesson to pass on to a waiting audience on how to dispel bullshit. I suppose it’s why I continue to dispel ghosts even though I know the next ghost story is minutes away. Likewise, every person I reach to show that government actors and programming are facades, the more people I give the tools to so they don’t fall for the next failed government program. And with each new field agent for liberty, we’re that much closer to the goal of pulling off the disguise for the big reveal that behind the mask, why it’s just old Mr. Smith and his henchmen again.

     And again.

          And again.

               And again. It’s always Mr. Smith and yet, the Mystery Van continues its mission.

*  Woo-woo does have real world consequences like the demise of the cult of Heaven’s Gate and other people being taken financially on a daily basis by psychic frauds. But nothing on the scale of harm a government program can do which affects all the people, not just those who voluntarily participate in woo-woo subjects.

Comey was fired for one reason (and Russia wasn’t it)

Trump and Comey

So, in less than 24 hours, social media has begun the tandem eruption and meltdown at the news that President Trump sent a letter of termination to James Comey, Director of the FBI. The first thing I did at hearing this was to follow the paper trail to see why this happened and how many people weighed into this decision. While the overwhelming number of Leftists (who, until yesterday, many wanted Comey’s head on a pike), led by the self-appointed tribal leader, Chuck-U Schumer, went all-in on the Russian conspiracy explanation, I took time to read the letter sent by the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. Before I get to the germane segments, which clearly lay out what many of us have believed since the July 2016 press release given by Comey regarding the illegal e-mail server used by Hillary Clinton, we need to address why this did not happen sooner.

Several talking heads and democrat leaders have bemoaned the timing of the firing, asking why Trump didn’t take action back in January? It’s worth mentioning, the Senate did not confirm Rod Rosenstein to the position of Deputy Attorney General until April 25, 2017 by a vote of 94-6. In today’s hyper-partisan climate, that vote is worth noting. As the number two man at the Department of Justice, it is also important to note that the FBI Director reports to this position. Thus, Rosenstein become Comey’s boss on April 25th.

With all of the turmoil surrounding the FBI’s handling of the Clinton private e-mail server, it was Rosenstein’s job to determine whether or not James Comey was fit to retain his position. It only took 10 working days from his confirmation date for Rosenstein to present his determination to his boss, Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, on Comey’s viability to lead the FBI. The memo had the following subject: Restoring public confidence in the FBI.

That one document, which is shorter than what I am laying out here, contains all the information anyone within the drive-by media (and everyone else for that matter) needs to understand the facts and report on the circumstances on why Comey was fired. But, what am I thinking? There are pre-determined narratives at work and far too many refuse to let facts get in the way of a good story.

Contrary to the tin-hat donning conspiracy theorists out there, the firing of James Comey had nothing to do with the on-going Russian collusion investigation, or any other Russian-themed investigation. In fact, the FBI’s investigation is just one of three different, concurrent investigations. The other two are happening in the House and in the Senate. Replacing the Director of the FBI does nothing to prevent the ongoing work being performed by the agents working for the Bureau. The firing of James Comey does nothing to prevent the House or the Senate from calling him to testify or continuing their own work. The idea President Trump decided to fire James Comey to stop the investigation requires a firm belief in unicorns and flying pigs.

A side-note: the investigation over Russian-Trump collusion (separate from Russian hacking or meddling) has been going on quietly for nearly a year now and, thus far, even Trump’s most determined opponents have had to admit there has been no evidence discovered to prove Trump was actively working with Russian agents to steal the election. The other investigations are looking into alleged hacking of systems and release of information by Russian actors trying to influence the election. None of these have been stopped as a result of the firing of James Comey. So, if you are among those who believe wholeheartedly President Trump actively worked with the Russians to steal the election away from Hillary Clinton, rest easy knowing those investigations are still underway.

Now that I have addressed the Left, let me move to those on the Right who think the firing of Comey was due to him not going after Hillary Clinton. Sorry, but that is not the reason, either. As much as many hoped the FBI would have brought formal charges against then candidate Clinton, his decision not to is not why he received his walking papers.

The memo produced by Deputy Director Rosenstein explains both succinctly and elegantly that FBI Director Comey did not treat Hillary Clinton properly or fairly during the called press conference on July 5, 2016. Yes, you heard me correctly. James Comey was fired by President Trump, at the recommendation of both the Deputy AG and the Attorney General of the United States, because he did not treat Hillary Clinton fairly.

Though I would strongly advise anyone to read the full text of Deputy AG Rosenstein’s memo, here are the relevant paragraphs, which reveal why Comey was fired:

The director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors. The Director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. There is a well-established process for other officials to step in when a conflict requires the recusal of the Attorney General. On July 5, however, the Director announced his own conclusions about the nation’s most sensitive criminal investigation, without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders.

As stated, FBI Director James Comey chose to be both investigator AND prosecutor in the Hillary Clinton private email server case. He did not follow the longstanding protocol that exists between the FBI and the Justice Department. But, he did more than just put himself in (then) AG Loretta Lynch’s role, he went on to list all of the reasons Clinton broke the law during a called public press conference:

Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation. Derogatory information sometimes is disclosed in the course of criminal investigations and prosecutions, but we never release it gratuitously. The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.

Many, me included, heard that “closing argument” on July 5 and found ourselves hopeful that the untouchable Hillary Clinton was about to be charged. The list was thorough and detailed. All of the transgressions were listed. The statues broken. The careless and irresponsible handling of national secrets. But, in the final paragraph, Comey pulled a 180 and made the assertion that he could find no “intent” to do wrong, something that does not need to be present and is not a requirement for breaking our intelligence laws. He then took on the role of prosecutor and spoke on behalf of everyone in the Justice Department, declaring, “…our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

James Comey’s egregious error in judgment is what led to his firing. He should have never held a public press conference. He should have made his recommendations as an investigator to the Justice Department and let them determine whether or not a case could be made to prosecute Hillary Clinton. He interjected a legal concept of “intent,” which does not exist in our intelligence laws and statutes — acting a bit like Chief Justice Roberts who helped to fix the Affordable Care Act by rewriting a portion of the bill ¹.

What we must decide is whether or not the memo of Deputy AG Rosenstein accurately describes the actions taken by FBI Director Comey. Did he overstep his role? Did he mistreat Hillary Clinton as a result? Did he subvert the traditions of the FBI? Did he provide the textbook example of what agents and prosecutors are not supposed to do? Before you jump into the fray, parroting the narratives being shouted by DNC leaders and members of the mainstream media, take a moment to read the memo and understand the facts of the case rather than invented machinations of political elites.


¹ – In case you are puzzled by the comparison, Congress makes/writes the law and the Justices’ role is to determine Constitutionality. By making corrections, Chief Justice Roberts was doing the job of the Legislature, thereby legislating from the bench. He should have pointed out the problem with the language, voted against the ACA and let Congress fix the wording. Instead, he decided to play both roles, ignoring the checks and balances inherent in our Constitution.

 

The Case for Listening Ears

Today I watched several fellow writers complain that the Trump Health Care Act (is that the official title?) is going to do severe damage to them as writers. In other words, they won’t have as good of health care under it as they perceive under Obamacare. I am confused by this. How do they know? How does anyone know the impact? Has anyone read it? We know no one doing the voting read it before voting on it. The GOP has picked up what Nancy Pelosi laid down the time they passed Obamacare. They had to pass it to see what’s in it.

So my first thought was to jump in and give a “well, what gives you the right to have chosen a risky career to now demand your neighbors fill in your gaps?” I was tempted to tweet, tweety-eet, “You chose the path of a writer. Why should any of us be forced to subsidize your hobby?”

Let’s face it. It takes a lot. A whole lot to call writing a career. Most of us do it because we like to, it’s a hobby. Or we write but in a professional capacity, such as, text books, paid journalism or legal or whatever. We do this while we work on that play, novel and essay. And this is the rub: They were complaining they can’t afford health care due to their choice of how they spend their day (or night). They screamed, “I wanna stay at home or in a coffee shop and tell a story! And I might get sick while doing it and…”

Wait, let’s back up…

Let’s say you churn out several paintings a month. And let’s say you attend several art shows to display and sell them. And let’s say you sell one for two-hundred-and-fifty dollars. That’s your salary for the month Two-hundred-and-fifty dollars. That was your choice. What else did you do with your time? What other ways did you attempt to market yourself to feed yourself and family, provide shelter, necessities or life and otherwise? If all you did was paint, you earned what you got.

Okay, enough of that. Really, although all that is true, it doesn’t get anyone to come to the free market side of health care. So I didn’t tweet tweety-eet any of that…although it’s true.

The point of this post is that telling people they did this to themselves does not sell them on any idea. In fact, pointing blame and saying deal with it, pushes people away from you no matter how right you may be. The best approach is to spend today and the next few weeks, quite frankly, listening to and reading those having a hard time securing health care. Find out what their main fear is. Then address that very specific fear. Show them how taking government out of health care will give them a better chance of achieving what they want. (I’m defending a free market health care option here, not TrumpCare. I have no idea what that is. I haven’t read it. Neither have you).

Here’s a better way of selling free market health care. It involves sympathy and understanding everyone wants the same thing: quality, affordable health care.

I say, “I have a condition too. I have this and that. I’m hoping my kids can find adequate care at affordable prices as well. Yeah, I hear you. That heart valve defect is awful. And you know what? I have an idea on how to fix all this without a government program and get us both good care and deals. Wanna hear about it?

If they don’t, move on to the next subject. Stop there. Go on to sports or Dancing With the Stars or anything else. You won’t reach everyone. What you’re looking for is the fence sitters. The fence sitters will wanna hear about it.

And say, “I can’t wait until I can negotiate a price for the medicines and services from doctors just like I do for just about everything else in life. I can’t wait until I have a selection of medical services, just like a selection of grocery stores and otherwise, that do their best to offer me the best at the lowest cost. We can get there but we have to get government out.”

If they’re still with you, you may proceed with good arguments for a free market health care system.

Sometimes you won’t even have to give a speech like my quotes above. Sometimes just being a listening ear is enough for someone to open the door to your ideas. Maybe letting them vent and letting them breath out and then you replying, “I hear ya, want another beer?” and never offering a solution until the next time is enough for them to welcome a next time. Maybe it will take months or years to convert. But you can be that pry bar in the door. That’s your only job for starters. Until then, listen.

What is the most likely reason a politician get votes? Is it because they have great ideas? Nope. I could write a doctoral thesis on how politics are made over feelz vs realz. You usually can’t reason someone into a position they didn’t use reason to get into. So, nope. Politicians don’t have to have great ideas. In fact, listen to them campaign. Never any solutions, only memes and slogans that sound great. No meat at all.

They get elected because they’re likable. Child development studies show that a child will want to be like her parents if she likes her parents. And studies show that if you’re likable, even if your peer group disagrees with your ideas, they’ll stick around. And you may rub off on them. The last thing you want to ever do is be right and be a prick. So be right and be kind. Don’t compromise your belief. But don’t be a jackass about it. Especially on the subject of health care where we could really be talking about life or death. All anyone wants is to ensure themselves and their kids and loved one’s survival. Listen more than talking. And you’ll be surprised how a closed mouth will pay off more than a yakity-yak. And speaking of that, it’s time for me to shut my trap.

Normalizing Through Self Credit

This morning I awoke to a question from a member of a biblical study group I’m involved in. The person asked if any of us wrote books on biblical criticism, no matter how light-hearted, and if those of us who did, felt the need to use a pseudonym or used our real name. The person was concerned that no matter what she had to say on the subject, biblical studies has the potential to bleed into family, friends and career. Say the wrong thing, and you risk losing any of these things. So should you use your real identity? Or a pseudonym?

I started thinking that this also applies to politics. While less damaging than criticizing religion, you surely can lose in the realm of friends, family or career if your writings/conclusions differ from others. Especially if those others are not welcome to something they hold sacred that you just took apart.

Well here is how I answer this. Here is why I think you should use your real identity when writing about any topic, especially hot button issues.

1) I put in the work. I want the credit. I’m proud of my work and want it attached to me. Should anyone (my kids) upon my death decide they want to compile an anthology of my essays or otherwise, why make it difficult for them.

2) Using my own identity encourages others to do so too, especially when they see the sky hasn’t fallen for me for doing so.

3) Using false identities grants some subjects (biblical studies, politics) a privileged status they doesn’t deserve. No idea is above scrutiny. Physicist don’t do this. Medical doctors don’t do this. Astronomers, biologists, Roman historians, etc don’t do this. Using your real identity will help normalize hot button issues and lessen stigmatization for future researchers and commentators.

4) If you’re telling the truth, even if in the future you’re honestly mistaken, you should never be hiding from what others may not like about it. You cheat yourself and your own conscience if you do.

5) When I read opinions and essays from a pseudonym, I’m immediately suspicious. What is this person hiding? They have nothing to lose if they are spreading false information. Using a real ID forces investment for the author and offers a chance for proper rebuttals.

Engaging in hot issues means you probably will lose some friends and family along the way. As Jon Ronson said in a round about way, the way to survive on the Internet is to be bland and just talk about ice cream and cats. Well I’m not interested in being bland. I say, without any apologies, as long as I’ve stayed truthful and honest and not mean spirited, then good riddance. If the information is factual and someone chooses to disengage and I mean, like check out of my life, then we probably had a lot less in common than previously thought. And, quite frankly, that opens up doors for others who can be more open to discussing such topics. Why trap yourself in with friends if you have to hide from them? And why bother with family members who only want to harass you? You’re born into it, you don’t have to live with it.

Now, despite what I said, I understand food needs to go on the table. So if you’re truly in danger of losing your job or means of support, then you have to do what you gotta do. Also, it could cost you more than relationships. For instance, a Muslim in some places in the Middle East risks actual death for criticising her religion, I can understand in such circles staying hidden. But that just means for me, relatively safe in the West, it’s best to be as open as possible if only to show it’s possible and give hope to those who cannot. Yet.

So unless you’re risking foreclosure and death, I say, use your own identity. Give yourself the credit. It forces you to be as honest as possible because your credibility is on the line. It’s a self-checking mechanism.

Go forth. Talk about the hot stuff. Normalize it. No idea is sacred. Everything is up for debate. And the more you do it, the less the idea will be untouchable. Think Galileo. Be like Galileo.