Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers


The phrase, “thoughts and prayers”, has become a touchstone of controversy in recent years. The phrase has become repeated so often that the meaning is stretched thin. In modern society in which social media provides instant, ready knowledge of the trials and tribulations that face people to whom we are digitally interconnected, the phrase has become trite.

Diagnoses of cancer and other health maladies, deaths of family members or friends and other circumstances that bring the pain and suffering of others to mind often evoke responses that include thoughts and prayers. It’s a polite, but increasingly empty, thing to say. Particularly in response to all the offerings of thoughts and prayers in response to mass shootings in the last few years, a backlash has even arisen against the use of that phrase.

I assume the sentiment includes the implication that something needs to be done about the problem, and thoughts and prayers don’t get done whatever it is that needs to be done. One CNN article observed after the Parkland shooting, “Among the earnest pleas for social and legislative action, the aftermath of each successive shooting inspires more and more memes and cynical jokes.” (How ‘thoughts and prayers’ went from common condolence to cynical meme)

The point, with the mass shootings, which is well-taken, is that offering platitudes isn’t enough of a response to such a systemic, serious societal problem. “The further [the phrase, thoughts and prayers,] is embedded in our post-tragedy lexicon, the more it’s mocked as a form of civilian slacktivism….”

Of course, part of the problem is that we can’t agree on whatever it is that needs to be done. For as many cries there are for more legislation to limit guns, there are calls for more guns to arm law abiding citizens to combat the lawless ones. In that context, the critical, cynical snarky remarks about thoughts and prayers expresses one particular political persuasion that promotes tougher gun legislation.

When powerful politicians (who are in a position actually to “do something” about the problem) offer thoughts and prayers, while deflecting talk of gun controls and opposing attempts at more effective gun legislation, the phrase takes on a “form of political obfuscation” that sparks the ire of people who want change.

On the other hand, that cynical response often looks like a shotgun blast, implying (or assuming) that all people offering thoughts and prayers oppose gun legislation (and have no intention of doing anything about mas shootings). It conjures up the stereotype of the gun-toting religious conservative.

God, country and guns may be one characterization of a particular political platform, but it certainly doesn’t include all the people who offer thoughts and prayers. Not all “religious people” are of the same color. If we are going to heal and advance as a nation against the scourge of mass shootings that has scarred our societal landscape in the last several decades, we need to bridge the gaps between people of good will and stop burning bridges.

In fact, I suspect that our growing insensitivity, incivility and lack of respect for people who “don’t think like us” contributes to the socio-psychological environment that spawns mass murderers. I don’t think that connection is a leap, though I can hear the counter voice in my head accusing me of “blaming the victims”.

If there is one thing that is sacred in modern American society, it is victimhood. I know that’s a snarky comment itself, but let’s be real here. I am not blaming the people who got shot. They didn’t “deserve” to get shot.

We have to get past the binary political attitudes. We can’t get anything done that will affect a real societal change by objectifying, vilifying and pissing off half the population. We need to find common ground.

My hope is to start building a bridge with this piece by offering some thoughts on thoughts and prayers and suggesting some ways to work together, rather than against, each other. So, first my thoughts (and prayers).

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Fighting the New Cold War


As someone who tries to look away from the news that bombards me from every public and private corner, like a train wreck impinging on my better instincts, I catch bits and pieces of the news on a continual basis – kind of like an unwanted stream of consciousness – that I would rather ignore. But I can’t. Trump, of course, is lurking in just about every news corner.

Trump and Russia are two of the most persistent and pernicious news themes today. Trump is mentioned together in nearly every news story on Russia’s meddling in American politics. I don’t think I am speaking out of school to say that Russia’s meddling in American politics is fact. We are beyond that question, aren’t we? But there is more to this story than Trump.

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Skeptical Perspectives on Kavanaugh

LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 12, 2018: Protesters showed up at Senator Diane Feinstein’s District Office to protest nomination Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice.

As I write this, Brett Kavanaugh is undergoing ongoing scrutiny for alleged sexual offenses committed against multiple women in his high school and college years. People have lined up along partisan lines for him and against him. Predictable and disappointing – as always.

I fear that that the allegations are true, and we will trample over them insensitively in the rush to achieve political outcomes, both sides using them against the other. I fear that the allegations are false, and we will destroy the name and reputation of a good man and the integrity of our democratic system in the political crossfire.

Due process is intended to prevent hangings, real or political, and to provide a fair, orderly and just way to get to the bottom of factual disputes so that the truth will win out. But that doesn’t always happen. Due process outside of a court of law is more like the wild west, and sometimes the court system doesn’t even get it right. Doe process, even when done right, doesn’t always uncover the real truth.

As the Kavanaugh fiasco teeters and totters forward, Bill Cosby was sentenced for the sexual crimes he committed in 2004. Ironic isn’t it? It’s still hard to accept the verdict that Bill Cosby is a sexual predator.

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We Are Easy Targets of the Information War

Depositphotos Image ID: 88914724 Copyright: 3dmentat

The news is out that Russians have been indicted on charges of interfering in the last presidential election, much to the chagrin of Republicans and Trump supporters. The indictment is certain to curl the lips of Democrats, and Hillary Clinton supporters in particular, in grins of righteous vindication. But we need to resist these gut level reactions and take thoughtful stock of what is going on in our country.

We are polarized as never before. What the Russians did was simply to use our own momentum against us in a classic judo type of social engineering that proved so effective it should be frightening. And it should prompt us to take off our combative gloves and come together as Americans to reclaim the civility of Democracy that is our saving grace in a country that is often torn and divided by the issues that threaten to push and pull us apart.

This is the indictment:

“A grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s office. The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare” against the United States with the stated goal of spreading mistrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” *

Unfortunately, we are fat and easy targets.

We need to pay close attention here, but we have to put down our weapons against each other to absorb the full impact of what the Russians were able to do. They used us and against ourselves, and it was easy work – too easy!

The Russians set up Internet based operations making them appear to be owned and operated by people within the United States. They used fictitious and stolen identities, fraudulent bank and accounts and false documents. They posed as “politically and socially active Americans” communicating with “unwitting Americans” through Social Media action groups. They advertised on social media networks, and they engaged and paid “real Americans” to carry on political campaigns, promote political candidates and agenda and stage political rallies.

For instance, “’Black Fist’ … was confirmed to be part of the Internet Research Agency’s operation — the self defense classes were an apparent attempt to stoke fear and gather contact details of Americans potentially susceptible to propaganda.”**

According to the report, these Americans didn’t know they were communicating with and being manipulated by Russians. These Americans were so easy to manipulate because they are losing the ability to vet their own political inclinations; they are losing the ability to be self-reflective; they are losing the ability to be civil and respectful of each other. These Americans are quick to judge, quick to jump to conclusions, quick to affirm their own narratives and quick to criticize others.

These Americans are us.

The Russians pitted us against ourselves. But for what end?

“[They] engaged in activities and rallies to support the president-elect while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election.” Sometimes they supported contrary rallies in the same cities on the same days. For those Republicans licking their wounds, this might be some solace; and for Democrats who might be tempted to smirk, this should give you pause.

The indictment indicates that the Russians “intended to incite discord in the United States and undermine confidence in Democracy”. The Russians simply fueled the fires that are already burning, and they did to sow discord and contention, and it didn’t take much effort for them to succeed.

In fact, I’m not sure they needed to do anything at all because we are already doing it to ourselves. They just gave us a nudge in the direction we have already been going. For instance, “‘Heart of Texas,’ a page that posed as a pro-Texas secession organization, promoted a ‘Stop Islamization of Texas’ protest at the opening of a library at an Islamic Center on May 21, 2016. The same troll group used another page, ‘United Muslims of America,’ to promote a ‘Save Islamic Knowledge’ event at the same time.” According to the same report, “After the election the group used its pages to promote events celebrating the election of Donald Trump and events protesting Trump’s election.”

While the liberal groups are screaming that the Russians meddled in the election to get Trump elected, the conservative groups are screeching about Hillary Clinton’s deals with Russians in the past – and the Russians are just smiling.

I actually wrote on this very subject last June, long before the recent indictments:

“Are we Americans that gullible? Or are we simply unwilling to suspend our penchant to believe everything that affirms our political views? Maybe its a matter of not being able to stop the momentum of our own biases as they carry us down the streams of our own predispositions…

“We are so hell bent on affirming our own biases about anything political that fake news has become a booming business!….”

“With virtually nothing growing in the no-man’s land in between, and little communication across the expanse, each side is primed for the propaganda it wants to hear. A little fake news here, a little drama there, and the war on both sides might be fueled for several generations to come, even while we seem know and admit that we are being manipulated.

“We just can’t stop ourselves.”***

Or can we?

Hopefully, we can stop this madness, but both sides will need to put their ideological weapons down long enough to talk peace. We need to replace party line politics with some real thought, analysis and self-reflection. We need be honest about our own ideological shortcomings and stop to consider that our political enemies are really our neighbors, our friends and even our own family members – they ultimately want what “we” want, which is a better America, a better world and a better future our children and grandchildren.

We all want the same thing!

Just because we disagree on how we achieve our mutual goals doesn’t mean that have to sharpen the pitchforks. We need to relearn civility and respect and the art of the compromise. If we can’t do this, we will continue to be the targets of future information wars that will wreak havoc on our socio-political psyches, undermine any remaining confidence in our political systems and threaten our Democracy.

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*For the press release by Rod Rosenstein:



**From http://money.cnn.com/2018/02/16/media/internet-research-agency-mueller-indictment/index.html

***See Political Gullibility? Or Unwillingness to Suspend Belief?

Is Free Speech In Jeopardy?

Depositphotos Image ID: 47468365 Copyright: AsierRomeroCarballo

The last presidential campaign was brutal and exposed a number of seeming violations of some of the most fundamental rights and the laws that protect them that we enjoy in the United States. For the first time in history, we witnessed a candidate that not only objectified women but boasted about sexual assault against women. But there were more subtle and, perhaps, more insidiously dangerous violations of fundamental rights and laws going on that have not drawn the visceral reactions they deserve.

The fundamental right to freedom of speech seemed to be in jeopardy, and we barely noticed. Continue reading

Political Gullibility? Or Unwillingness to Suspend Belief?

Donkey Hotey / Flickr

Are we Americans that gullible? Or are we simply unwilling to suspend our penchant to believe everything that affirms our political views? Maybe its a matter of not being able to stop the momentum of our own biases as they carry us down the streams of our own predispositions.

I spent a half hour reading Facebook posts one day following the Comey hearing. The exercise can be summarized by the following article title: Breaking: Comey Hearing Confirms Whatever You Already Wanted To Believe (it’s satire folks).

I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Throughout the presidential season, we were certain that our partisan counterparts were trapped in their own echo chambers, while we had an uneasy feeling, burping to the surface at times like the perpetual heartburn we work hard to ignore, that we might be living in our own.  Even the most ardent political junkie looked forward to the day when he would sigh in the relief of victory or retreat to lick his wounds in relative peace.

But the peace never came. After a flurry of news and opinions on the scourge of fake news, we have been off to the same race we doggedly followed before. The Comey firing and hearing now is just the latest in the perpetual laps that go round and round.

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