Complacency

Complacency

Are you comfortable? Are you warm, well-fed, and dry? Do you have enough to drink? Warm showers? Bathroom indoors? Excellent. This isn’t judgement. You, like me, are a benefactor of decades and centuries of prosperity, war, genocide, environmental support and ruin, negotiations, smart men and women, and incredibly ignorant men and women. Our life here in the United States is far more fortunate than most of the world. And for all this fortune and well-being, shouldn’t we be an example? A role model, if you will?

And we’ve moved into a time of just the opposite: officials and citizens of the U.S.A. who would have us cease to be citizens of the world. We citizens, in our Typical U.S.A. fashion, are dreadfully close to leaning back, away from the political and global world stage, and saying, “Yeah, not me. Not now. I’m okay right here.” There are those who think we’ve extended ourselves too far – being the military and financial might that we are. We’ve stuccomplacency-meaning-definitionk our noses into a lot of things – countries, business, trade, religion, and other government. It’s part arrogance, part global citizen, but do not believe it’s selfless. We are not by any stretch of imagination a selfless country.

Don’t get me wrong: there are many, many selfless people here in this country. Yet, we’ve not yet organized ourselves into a selfless mindset. We’re too fragmented, idealistic, narcissistic, egotistical, and fearful. With the new Republican administration sweeping our Nation’s capital, it seems we’re only going to continue down this road of fragmentation and insularity. We want to listen only to what we believe in. It’s too hard to stay in the game of change. We’re becoming immune and yes, I might say it, normalizing when it comes to the intense rhetoric. When a leading national policy maker, with the ear of the President says, that his personal agenda is the deconstruction of national administration, we should not be complacent. We should be attentive. These might be Fearful Words. I think that many of us who are idealists, moderate left to moderate right, hear this and think the sky is falling. A few might run protesting through the streets and ready to swing a heavy hammer back in another direction. Most wring their hands and hope that it will all go away. Maybe this IS the Twilight Zone.

But, hear me out… I think we need to stop and think. I mlkthink we need to understand the motivations behind the chaos and deconstruction and near-anarchy. I recently read an article on Politico regarding Bannon’s reading list. It’s fascinating. It’s really about the dissatisfaction with the status quo reaching a head. The country’s dissatisfaction has been waiting to burst for many people for sometime – else, the message would have fallen on deaf ears and Hillary would have been elected.  Many of us who would not and do not agree with Bannon’s ideology have felt this same way also for a long time but perhaps we were too locked-into a single mindset to think differently. Bannon’s is a mindset that says, “Rush the gates!” rather than “Tunnel under the wall.” It’s a system that’s advocating for intense chaos that instigates intense change. As I said in an earlier, non-related post about chaos, entropy is the death of life. And yet, it’s as necessary as the upset to our equilibrium.

I am not advocating for intense, hate-based change. I do not believe in hate, lies, bigotry, or ignorance. Quite the opposite. And I do believe these things that are being done are being done to shock and awe our consciousness. There are people on the Right who are, like some on the Left, taking the message too far. These are people who advocate for and commit acts of hate and ignorance. I am not advocating for that. What I am advocating for is that we all should listen closely to what is being said. I am hoping we can stop and listen. Listening is the only way that I have personally found to make change. We need to shift into our “thinking man’s” mindset and really listen. Can we sift through the chaos and hear the real message? Then, once heard, can we shift into non-complacency?

I think that is our clear danger here. We are on the brink of sitting back, as I said, and waiting for someone else to take the reins of the Four Horsemen’s steeds and slow the oncoming apocalypse – and yes, I mean that in a literal sense directed towards our “world” not THE world. Someone else can get bloodied. Someone else can be uncomfortable. Someone else can be at the center of the debate. I’m fine just where I am. This is what I think Dan Rather was saying when he first stepped out on the stage after the election last year. “To all of you I say, stay vigilant. The great Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that even as a minority, there was strength in numbers in fighting tyranny. Holding hands and marching forward, raising your voice above the din of complacency, can move mountains. And in this case, I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking. Engage in your civic government. Flood newsrooms or TV networks with your calls if you feel they are slipping into the normalization of extremism. Donate your time and money to causes that will fight to protect our liberties.”

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I do not think Americans are generally a “fight” first people… generally, as individuals that is. These people who carry the message of antisemitism, bigotry, and racism are easy to hate and vilify and condemn. It’s easy to just fall into the same trap of name calling, topic deflection, and rhetoric. I think it’s a lot harder to stand up and understand them, and then fight back differently. I’m not talking about actual fighting or even some of the things that we “traditionally” do when government goes awry, like protests. I’m talking about seeking to understand and then counter their measures on their own terms. We’re already seeing some of it. We’re seeing people who would never have considered running for office doing so now – both locally and statewide. We’re seeing letter writing and phone calls and new manifestos. We’re hearing those who might have been silent in the past reaching out with a clear voice and measured, thoughtful ideas.  We’re hearing about corporations who are funding where government is dropping off. We’re hearing about rogue insiders in agencies posting the true comments and stories rather than hiding behind the media. These are all good – and we can do more. We need to get into the minds of these people and understand the source, so we can reverse the river’s course. We need weird solutions to whatever is put before us. We need, as Obama said, “smart ideas.”

Dan Rather recently posted an update to the original posting noted above. He said:

“The time for normalizing, dissembling, and explaining away Donald Trump has long since passed. The barring of respected journalistic outlets from the White House briefing is so far beyond the norms and traditions that have governed this republic for generations, that they must be seen as a real and present threat to our democracy. These are the dangers presidents are supposed to protect against, not create.

For all who excused Mr. Trump’s rhetoric in the campaign as just talk, the reckoning has come. I hope it isn’t true, but I fear Mr. Trump is nearing or perhaps already beyond any hope of redemption. And now the question is will enough pressure be turned to all those who enable his antics with their tacit encouragement. There has been a wall of unbending support from virtually every Republican in Congress, and even some Democrats. Among many people, this will be seen as anything approaching acceptable. And mind you, talk is cheap. No one needs to hear how you don’t agree with the President. What are you going to do about it? Do you maintain that an Administration that seeks to subvert the protections of our Constitution is fit to rule unchecked? Or fit to rule at all?

This is an emergency that can no longer be placed solely at the feet of President Trump, or even the Trump Administration. This is a moment of judgement for everyone who willingly remains silent. It is gut check time, for those in a position of power, and for the nation.”

This thoughtful, measured fight isn’t easy. Some people may think I’m crazy for listening to “the other side.” Truth is, I’m on the side of humanity. I’m on the side of human beings being better than they are. Sometimes, we need to go backward or sideways to actually move forward. Sometimes we need the shake up of thinking differently to get back on an upward trajectory. Look, most of us were unhappy with the government. Congress’ approval rating has been the lowest in history for years – YEARS! Did it change the way we hoped it would, with sweetness and roses? No. But, let’s admit, it wasn’t going to change itself. It needed a huge shock to shift. How many times have you or someone you know said “If only a bomb would drop on Washington?” People even made movies about it. Come on. It’s the metaphor for “I wish it would change but I don’t know what it will take to do it.” We’ve thought this for some time. The weird thing is, now it’s happening and we, most of the American public, didn’t actually instigate it.

We should not get over our revulsion of hate and ignorance, and the acts which are committed in their names. We should not ignore the lies and “alternative facts” which come out of our Nation’s capital now. As Dan said, “…these are not normal times. This is not about tax policy, health care, or education – even though all those and more are so important. This is about racism, bigotry, intimidation and the specter of corruption.” Do not ignore these. We must, though, look into the heart of what is really happening and learn their strategy. We rise above it by infiltrating it, understanding it, awalking-deadnd then, crushing it. We need to have the equilibrium unsettled, the boat tilted wildly, before we can learn how to right it again, and find a sea that we can sail swiftly.

The chaos doesn’t have a plan for what to put back in its place. Bannon doesn’t have a plan for rebuilding the Government in his image. Trump might, but it’s unlikely. Chaos seeks to break apart not put back together. We, the thinkers and the doers, are the ones who will put the fragmented ideals back together into a government that perhaps works better than a previous one did. Maybe it will be a Democratic Republic. Maybe not. Maybe it will be something new and better. If we choose to do nothing, nothing will change or happen. If we choose to ignore the rhetoric and take the path less traveled, we become the ones the current Government fears. We become the agents of the real new world.

That is who I want to be, and I’m guessing most of you, too. To that end, we cannot be complacent in these times. Two months in, do not sit back in your sofa and turn on The Walking Dead; else, you’re in danger of becoming so yourself.

The Importance of Social Capital

The Importance of Social Capital
A phrase came into my head, recently, about some of the things I would like to do with my life. Let me back up a bit…. About this time of year, I always sit down and write my goals for the coming year. I call them goals, but let’s call it… a theme, a direction, some things I’d like to see, do, and maybe achieve. They aren’t goals, per se – more like guidelines. This year, I am trying a different tack, one from a company called The Dragontree Apothecary. It’s a book to walk through your year, interactive – kinda of hipster, but it’s something different. I’ve been doing this exercise for thirty years; sometimes a girl has to find something new.
 

Anyway, I was thinking something I’d like to leave the world when I die, a legacy, memory, something that I’ve contributed in my time here. I’m not planning on exiting soon; this is simply an exercise in learning where to put my time. The thought struck me that people always talk about combating poverty or giving to charity. As Freemasons, Charity is a core value that many of us appreciate, value, and toward which we give time and money. I was thinking about Charity and about how I’d like to twist that, and combat more than Physical Poverty. I thought about Emotional Poverty. This seems to me to be a very private thing to combat – we all must learn to move away from apathy and disinterestedness but each of us has a different path to get there. No, Emotional Poverty is something each individual must combat on their own.

What I really want to do is combat Mental Poverty.

knowledge3Poverty is described as a deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients or qualities. It is sparse, meager, insufficient. It is being destitute or indigent, a dearth of, well, something. So, what is mental poverty? I think it’s the state of needing more “mind.” Mind is intellect, the totality of conscious and unconscious mental activities – it is the part of each human being that has the capacity to reason, think, calculate, extrapolate, judge and perceive. So, to be mentally impoverished means that the sum total of our capacity to reason and think is sparse, meager, and insufficient.

Little did I know, but should have guessed, it was already a thing.

I don’t think of this as combating stupidity. I think of this as combating ignorance. Ignorance is simply lacking knowledge; I think mental poverty comes from ignorance and from the inability to lift oneself from ignorance. I want to combat the factors that go into that inability – I want to create a world where people who are ignorant and want to lift themselves from it can do so. They have the tools, means, and will to make it happen.

Luckily, Freemasonry tells us that it is our duty to be a guide and helper of the ignorant. Does some part of you bristle at that arrogance? It did me. Who am I to be a guide and helper of the ignorant? Who am I to judge who is ignorant and who isn’t? Well, I’m not. However, if it’s my duty to be that guide, and to help reverse mental poverty, how do I make it my duty? Well, to me, I first have to make myself less ignorant.

I do this often by reading, listening to podcasts, watching TED talks, listening to different points of views… actually engaging with those that are different from me. However, it doesn’t seem quite enough. While listening to one of those same podcasts, Freakonomics, I heard a term I hadn’t heard before: Social Capital. What captured my attention right off is what a lack of social capital mean to a culture, what its effects are, and how can it be reversed. Even more interesting is why we WANT to reverse it.

shutterstock_knowledgeThe episode was primarily about Trust, and why we want to have a more trusting country; countries that believe that most people can be trusted are generally healthier, wealthier, and have a more positive discourse than countries were trust is lacking. In distrustful societies, people tend to be poorer in emotional and physical ways, but also mentally – ergo, mental poverty. So why increase social capital? To increase Trust and bring people out of poverty and despair. I think that is an incredibly Masonic idea and ideal.

So, perhaps the way we get out of mental poverty and create a most trusting and vibrant society is to increase social capital. To quote David Halpern, from the British “Nudge Unit:” Social trust is an extraordinarily interesting variable and it doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserves. But the basic idea is trying to understand what is the kind of fabric of society that makes economies and, indeed, just people get along in general. It’s clearly so critical for a whole range of outcomes.” The episode goes on to say, “Outcomes like economic growth, and individual health.” That includes better government and overall, a more civil society. Social capital, while hard to exactly quantify, does exist and is tangible. It’s like good art: we know it when we see its effects.

When people meet, gather, discuss, and “network,” they are creating social capital. It is in the discourse and interaction between competing ideas (humans) and cultures that creates a more vibrant, trustworthy culture. It creates goodwill and fellowship, above and beyond what we find in our own homes. However, they are not exempt either. When you invite someone over for dinner, join the PTA, host a book club, or go to a party at a friend’s house, you are engaging in building social capital. Meeting and talking with people of different backgrounds creates understanding and trust, which in turn builds a better democracy and more educated society. It’s difficult to grow in a vacuum.

To me, this is what Freemasons do as a matter of 7628F943-9E30-48AA-ADB7-60C05E09276Acourse. We encourage this kind of social and civic duty, with our fellow members and with our community. We are encouraged to be out in the world, be examples, and work hard at learning what other people think and do. It comes full circle. Our job as Freemasons is to be the guide and helper of “the ignorant,” which includes ourselves, and we increase our intellectual acuity by building our social capital, which in turn builds a better, more trustful society that continues to become emotionally, physically, and mentally wealthier. The cycle goes the other way.

In the United States of America, this is going to be a difficult task. We have so much distrust and hate because, I think, we have little social capital. Robert Putnam, in his book “Bowling Alone,” has stated that we’re currently around 35% “trustful” in the U.S.A. – compared to some place like Norway or Sweden, which is around 70%. There might be many counter arguments for this, but one thing is certain – there is more social capital in those countries, which leads to a better society overall. Putnam’s original article, published before the book, can be found here.  The article also includes information and follow ups from other sources.

In the end, what I believe I can do for my coming year’s “guidelines” is to engage more socially, in civic-minded ways. I know that I feel better when I get out, socialize, talk with people. I become alive, vibrant, thoughtful, and my mind is stimulated by new ideas and concepts. I test my emotional mettle against others and learn how to become more mindful and adept at conversation and rhetoric. When I meet people of different backgrounds, religions, races, creeds, and identities, I am enlightened and enriched. In other words, I have worked to bring myself into a better place, and in doing so, perhaps I have brought society a little higher, too. In fact, sociologists agree: “From the material marshaled by Robert Putnam, we can see that the simple act of joining and being regularly involved in organized groups has a very significant impact on society.”

Thus, simply being a Freemason is a first step in the right direction. A good group to seek out and engage in this kind of civic discourse is the Masonic Philosophical Society. Study centers meet to not only discuss Freemasonry but a wide range of topics important to our global culture. I’ve attended several of these meetings and hosted a few. I find them to be highly engaging and very insightful. Besides these, I’m looking into joining a few civic and non-partisan ethical organizations, as well. Heck, maybe starting my own book club is a way to start. Maybe I’ll start with Bowling Alone. No one should ever have to do such a lonely thing.

Book:

The Social Capital Wikipedia page is also a fairly well documented page, and up to date.

“Bowling Alone” does have its own website as well: http://bowlingalone.com/

Understanding Chaos

Understanding Chaos
In this first 100 days of  2017, here in America and in some other countries, there has been a great deal of what we like to call chaos. Chaos is “complete disorder or disruption.” However, I’m going to challenge us all, especially Freemasons, to look at Chaos differently. We put “Order out of Chaos” but what does this mean? The challenge I have is to look at Chaos as something different and necessary to life and growth, or at least our ability to tell the difference.
 

Let me first start by saying this is not, emphasis on NOT, a political discussion. This is using an event in politics to illustrate a point. However you feel about the politics/events, right or wrong, is irrelevant to the content of this blog. What I want to do is illustrate how science and nature have a real place in our processes to affect change. Think differently. That said, here we go.

A recent event happened in politics in America – the Immigration Executive Order that Trump signed on January 27th. The executive order was, by mostly-credible accounts thus far, written by Steve Bannon, a self-designated fear monger. He stated, in a 2010 interview, “Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action.” He also stated that “I’m a Leninist,” [quoted as saying by a writer for The Daily Beast] He later said he did not recall the conversation. “Lenin wanted to destroy the stA30B258A-524B-4688-9D2F-EE9E6F4D5652ate, and that’s my goal, too,” the site quoted him as saying. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  Mr. Bannon told The Washington Post this year, “We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club.’ You don’t come to us for warm and fuzzy. We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class. We say Paul Ryan was grown in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”

I do not think that Mr. Bannon is alone in
his thinking this way, especially across the current appointees and heads of various government agencies. I think Trump has a specific goal in mind: introduce chaos into the system to turn it on its head and change it. The difficulty that most people have is that it is chaos mixed with fear, hatred, and injustice – not Masonic values at all.

In a recent Facebook posting, historian Heather Cox Richardson explained this “shock event” in very succinct and clear terms – what it is, what the outcomes may be, and what we can do to overcome it. The full text can be found in this blog. I think that one of the best sentences in this piece, and one we should all take hold of is this: “But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.” Her point, in other words, is that we don’t have to react in ways we’ve always reacted – we can take our emotions and work differently. It takes consciousness, focus, and effort. It takes energy. Energy.

Here’s where I want to turn chaos on its head. In the world of science, specifically physics and thermodynamics, chaos equates to entropy. Entropy is not sitting on your couch, drinking a Coors, and watching the game. No. In physics, entropy is the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder. Simply stated, entropy is the spreading of energy until it is evenly spread. A great, in-depth, and head-expanding article on the second law of thermodynamics and entropy is here. I warn you, it’s long and even though it says “simple,” it takes focus to really follow the whole article. Bottom line: let’s just say, energy disperses.

If you look at our country, or any “related system” I will call it, we were founded by many humans with a great deal of energy for change. Events which upset the equilibrium – taxation, religious persecution, and the like – created energy, which in turn led people to expend their energy differently – fighting for and creating a new country and a new form of government. This energy, related to the creating of the United States of America, has over time, received influxes of upsets to its equilibrium; these are the events more remembered as shapers of the country. It is how we got to where we are today.

How does this relate to thermodynamics and physics? Hang with me, I’m getting there. There is new discussion about entropy and how physics can be applied to the biology of life. Another long article but with a very clear video about the thoughts and theories is found here. In essence, the article explains that in the end, thought (that is, intention, logic, and problem-solving) are the keys to fighting entropy and disorder. Another way of looking at this is that the destruction of forms happens because of entropy; the introduction of an upset to the equilibrium staves off entropy (chaos) and causes the current energy to reorganize and become a viable source for change. We can look at teleology as having a connection to thermodynamics rather than biology. Simply said, thought is energy.

Did I lose you? I might have lost myself. But, stay with me. Where I’m getting to is this: Freemasonry values nature and science – we need to look at both for the answers of how did we get here and where do we go next. Let’s take a step and connect biology, physics, and politics, weird as that may be, into a line and we can see how we got here. And, to Heather Cox Richardson’s point, how we get out. We need to take whatever energies we receive from the upset of the equilibrium and turn it into a thoughtful way to change our world.

Like the small discs of atoms the researchers used in their experiments in the above article, we too can use tools and socially organize into effective change advocates. We can create something new from the impetus we’ve been given. To me, Freemasonry has given me the balance to look at something like Chaos as see it as a blessing. I’m not talking about how that chaos is delivered, which may involve incredible emotional and physical upheaval. Pain, Fear, Hate, Ignorance – all of these continue. It is in our responses where we can affect the change. Until we think about our next moves, use the energy that we’ve been given to that plan of thought, and execute well, the shock event will actually create nothing new at all. I might even venture to say that what we might view as negative change can actually be what positive change needs to get going. All of these lessons are clear in nearly all degrees of Freemasonry. Sometimes, it takes chaos for us to see the value in what we’re learning. If we can take a breath and use our thought processes to absorb the disruption, we might be able to see the value in all sides of an event.

Investigative Journalism and Democracy: The White House Correspondents’ Association

Investigative Journalism and Democracy: The White House Correspondents’ Association

How important is the role of robust and investigative journalism in a healthy democracy? Many political scientists argue journalists perform a crucial role in informing the public debate so that the electorate can make educated choices. Politicians are elected to make decisions and take action that reflects the wishes of the voters who elected them to office. In order to inform and educate the voters, journalists must scrutinize the politician’s decisions and report the implications to the public.  Thus, journalism could be viewed as crucial to the correct functioning of a Democracy.

The White House Correspondents’ Association

In 1913, President Wilson, concerned about remarks quoted by some newspapers, threatened to end the practice of Presidential Press Conferences. Pledging themselves to a professional code of conduct, a group of White House correspondents conviWhiteHouseCorrespondentsnced President Wilson to relent.

On February 25, 1914,  these journalists formally organized as the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) in response to a rumor that a Congressional committee was planning to select which journalists could attend Presidential press conferences. The organizations original mission was to keep Wilson from ending his press conferences. Since its founding, the group has expanded its mission to pushing for broader access to the White House and supporting vigorous reporting on the presidency.

Advocating for openness and transparency in every operation of the presidency, the WHCA fulfills its mission of oversight of the Oval Office and the federal agencies and supplies reporters to travel aboard Air Force One, the President’s official aircraft.

Filling the White House press room on a daily basis, the WHCA represents each sector of the media. According to the WHCA’s website, the organization traces its roots back to the newspaper reporters who, in the 1890s, stood outside the White House fence to question the President and visitors of the White House. Each generation of WHCA reporters has diligently worked to provide regular coverage of the President’s public activities through a rotating group of representatives the organization refers to as “the pool.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner

On April 25, 2015, the Annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner was held in Washington D.C. Bringing together journalists, celebrities, and members of Congress, a diverse croPresidentObamaWhiteHouseCorrespondentswd gathered to hear President Obama speak in a candid fashion: reciting a collection of what his aides call the “State of the Union of Jokes.” While Journalism awards and scholarships were presented, the mainstream media’s focus remained lighthearted and jovial as President Obama and Saturday Night Live comedian Cecily Strong made humorous remarks about politics and the media. When the President took center stage, he provided the American public with these jokes:

– “Six years into my presidency, people still say I’m arrogant. Aloof. Condescending. People are so dumb. That’s why I don’t meet with them.”

– “On Saturday Night Live, Cecily impersonates CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin, which is surprising, because usually the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN.”

Humorous anecdotes aside, the role of investigative journalism is not a laughing matter. President Obama highlighted America’s need for journalists that expose corruption and provide a voice to the marginalized in our society when he honored Journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, who in his words were “murdered for nothing more than trying to shine a light into some of the world’s darkest corners.” Telecast live by Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN and CNN, the dinner was hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the press related to the President and the White House.

Freemasonry’s Search for the Truththomasjeffersonfreemason

Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, once remarked, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a Government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Like American journalism, Freemasonry’s purpose is founded in search for truth. Sharing in the journalist mission of shining light in darkness, Freemasons operate under a strong moral code of conduct. To think high, to do well, to be tolerant to others, and to search after Truth are some of the duties of a Mason. To protect our Nation’s Democracy, all Americans have a responsibility to support the search for truth and the eradication of ignorance. A robust and investigative system of journalism is provides key information needed to ensure a well-functioning democratic government. 

The Caucus, Primary, and National Party Conventions: How Has History Shaped the Presidential Nomination Process?

The Caucus, Primary, and National Party Conventions: How Has History Shaped the Presidential Nomination Process?

How do U.S. political parties nominate a candidate for President? To win the nomination in one of the parties, the candidate collects pledges from a majority of the delegates to the parties’ National Conventions, currently held during the summer before November’s general election. There are three methods used presently to allocate delegates to presidential contenders: 1) the Caucus System, 2) the Primary System, or 3) a combination of the two. To determine their candidate, each state hold’s a political contest, referred to as a caucus or primary.  The caucus method is organized by the political parties, whereas, primaries are organized and overseen by the State government. The candidate who secures the highest number of delegates at the political convention wins the nomination and competes in the general election. How has history shaped this nomination process, and how did Freemasonry impact the evolution of that process? 

The Caucus

As the older method of choosing delegates, the caucus system was utilized by all States in the Union until the 1832 election. The term “caucus” is derived from Latin origin, meaning,  “a drinking vessel” and was used to describe informal local pocaucusmeetinglitical clubs prior to the forming of the United States. 

A caucus is defined as “a meeting of a political group to select candidates, plan strategy, or make decisions regarding legislative matters.” In the nominating process, a caucus is a local meeting where registered members of a party gather to select a delegate that may represent them at the National Convention. In most states, the attendees at the precinct caucus vote for their preferred party candidate, which informs and directs a percentage of the State’s delegation at the National Party Convention. In 2016, approximately 123,500 Democratic voters in Colorado attended their local caucus on March 1st and voted to select a party candidate. In contrast, the Republican Party in Colorado decided to forgo voting for a candidate in their precinct caucuses and only selected delegates for their future convention. This means that of the 5.5 million citizens of Colorado, only 2.2 percent of the population voted to select a Presidential candidate for the 2016  general election. 

In 2016, thirteen states (Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Maine, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and Wyoming) utilized the caucus system. In most states, only registered voters can participate in a caucus, and they are limited to the caucus of the party with which they are affiliated. Caucuses are typically used in combination with congressional district assemblies and a state convention to elect delegates to the national nominating convention for presidential elections. 

The Primary

A primary is a state-run process of selecting candidates and delegates, where the results are used to determine the configuration of delegates at the national convention of each party. Unlike caucuses, primaries are conducted at regular polling stations, paid for by the state, and overseen by state election officials. Voters cast a secretPrimaryVoting ballot for their preferred candidate, as compared to caucuses where the voting is done in a group forum usually by a show of hands or breaking into groups based on support.  In 2016, thirty-seven U.S. states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota) and the District of Columbia will conduct a primary election. Voter participation tends to be significantly higher in primaries. In 2016, more than 1.5 million citizens of the state of Missouri voted to nominate candidates for president. With approximately 6 million people living in Missouri, this equates to 25 percent of the population voting for a presidential candidate. 

There are several types of primaries in the U.S. system: closed primary, semi-closed primary, open primary, and semi-open primary. 

  • Closed primary: Participation is open only to a particular political party’s registered members. Independents or other party members cannot participate. Florida holds a closed primary. 
  • Semi-closed primary: Participation is open to registered party members and unaffiliated voters. State election rules determine whether unaffiliated voters may make their choice. New Hampshire holds a semi-closed primary. 
  • Open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary. Illinois holds an open primary. 
  • Semi-open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary but when they identify themselves to election officials, they must request a party’s specific ballot. Ohio holds a semi-open primary. 

Prior to the 1970s, most states utilized the caucus system to choose their delegates, but public outcry over corruption by political bosses led to substantial changes in the process for the 1972 election.  The caucus system favored powerful leadersRepublicanNationalConvention with pull in their delegation like famous party boss Mayor Daley of Chicago. In 1968, CBS reporter, Martin Plissner, stated, “If Daley instructs the Illinois delegates to vote for Ho Chi Minh, all but twenty votes will go to Ho Chi Minh without question.” In an effort to make the nomination process more inclusive and transparent, most states have moved to the primary system. 

Political Party National Conventions 

Every four years, a political party national convention is hosted, usually in the summer, by the major political parties who field nominees in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November. The purpose of the national convention is to select the party’s nominee for President, adopt a policy platformand adopt the rules for the party’s activities for the next election cycle. During the convention, a roll call of the votes is held, where each state delegation announces its vote totals. If no candidate secures a majority of delegates during the first vote, a “Brokered Convention” in invoked. In a brokered convention, most pledged delegates are released from their agreements to support a specific candidate and delegates are then able to switch their allegiance to a different candidate. The party nomination is then decided through a process of debate and rounds re-voting until a candidate is selected. 

Historical Analysis: Freemason Andrew Jackson and Reforms to the Nomination Process

Before 1820, members of Congress would hold a caucus meeting and nominate candidates from their party. There were no primaries or national conventions, instead congressional party members gathered in a caucus meeting to decide the party’s candidate. The system was altered following the U.S. Presidential election of 1824, referred to as “The Corrupt BargainCorruptBargin1824,” when Andrew Jackson won the popular and electoral college vote, but the U.S. House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams to be President. Mr. Jackson decried the corruption stating, “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.”

Andrew Jackson, a Freemason and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee (1822-1824), was among the most strident critics of the caucus method of selecting candidates. In his 1828 presidential bid, Jackson ran with the vocalized intent of restoring the voice of the people to the election process. As a man of the people, Andrew Jackson argued that the caucus system was elitist and undemocratic, as only a small percentage of the population was engaged in the process. Jackson pledged that he would open up the system to increase the political power of the electorate, and he proposed to eliminate the Electoral College and institute a direct popular election of the president. Jackson argued, ” Our government is founded upon the intelligence of the people. I for one do not despair of the republic. I have great confidence in the virtue of the great majority of the people, and I cannot fear the result.” The election of 1828 was described as a “triumph of democratic politics,” in which more than 1.1 million men participated compared to only 300,000 in 1824. 

Andrew Jackson was elected U.S. President in 1828 and was re-elected in 1832. In 1832, national conventions were held by the political parties, including the Anti-Masonic Party which held its convention in Baltimore, Maryland on September 26, 1831 to select William Wirt as their Presidential candidate.  President Andrew Jackson, candidate of the Democratic Party, won re-election against Henry Clay the candidate of the National Republican Party, and William Wirt the candidate of the Anti-Masonic Party. Jackson won with 219 of the 286 electoral votes cast in the national election. 

The U.S. Electoral College: Are American Citizens Qualified to Elect the President?

The U.S. Electoral College: Are American Citizens Qualified to Elect the President?

Many Americans uphold the U.S. Constitution as a visionary document: drafted in a spirit of equality and encouraging the maximum democratic participation for all voters. The Preamble’s introductory line, “We the people of the United States, in order to establish a more perfect union,” seems to imply that all citizens of our Nation would be involved in the process of creating and directing the government. In reality, however, the framers of the Constitution only provided a small voting role for the general electorate. The drafters intended that only members of the U.S. House of Representatives would be subject to direct election by the general voting population. In contrast,federalistpapersauthors U.S. Senators and the U.S. President would be indirectly elected for longer terms of office. What reasoning did the Framers cite for withholding direct electoral rights to citizens? 

Tempering Passions with Reason

In The Federalist Papers,  James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, wrote against the concept of direct elections of the President and Senators. In his papers #49 and #63, Madison argued that giving ordinary citizens the right to elect their president would mean that “the passions, therefore, not the reason, of the public would sit in judgement.” Moreover, the indirect election plan would protect the American public against “their own temporary errors and delusions,” “their violent passions,” and “popular fluctuations.” Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper #68 advocated for indirect elections as a means to avoid “tumult and disorder” and “violent movements.” Ultimately, the authors’ indirect voting philosophy informed the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the method of selecting in the President in Clauses 2, 3, and 4 of Article 2, Section 1. 

The U.S. Constitution’s Requirements for Electing the President

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2: Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to theUSConstitution whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

Under the U.S. Constitution, by means of a constitutional grant of authority to the State legislatures, the President and Vice President are chosen by electors. This system allows each State to determine the means by which it will create its State College of Electors. In current practice, State legislatures create their panel of electors by indirect popular vote.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 3: The electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot… they shall make a list of all the persons voted for, and of the number of votes for each; which list they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for President… (Note: This clause was changed by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804).

Each individual State chooses its electors in the popular election. Once chosen, the electors meet in their respective states to cast ballots for the President and Vice President. In the case where no Presidential candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House chooses from the top three candidates.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 4: The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Congress determines the national Election Day, which has been determined to be the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in the year before the President’s term is to expire. Then, the Electors cast their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday ElectoralCollegeElectorsSwornin December of that year. The votes are then opened and counted by the Vice President, as President of the Senate, in a joint session of Congress.

The Electoral College 

The political philosophy that ordinary citizens were not qualified to choose their leaders was common practice in the early years of popular voting. Instead, nations made use of indirect voting, whereby the voters would elect a group of representatives to select public leaders on their behalf. The Electoral College is the last vestige of this arcane system still operating in the United States. Thus, when Americans go to vote for the President on Election Day they are not voting for the President, they are choosing representatives who will vote on their behalf. In each State, the voters are technically choosing between the groups of electors who have been elected or appointed months prior to the election. The electors are then pledged to support their own party’s presidential candidate. 

The Electoral College operates on a system of 538 total electoral votes for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. To win the general election, 270 votes are needed for a candidate. Each state is entitled to a number of electoral votes equal to the combined number of Senators plus the number of U.S. Representatives for that state. For example, Montana has a single member of Congress and two senators. Thus, Montana receives three electoral votes in the Presidential contest. In contrast, California has 53 members of Congress and 2 Senators, receiving 55 electoral votes.

Following the general election on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November, the winning balloted electors travel to their State Capitol to formally cast their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December. While rare, electors have, in the past, broken their pledges and voted for a different candidate. Although most states have passed statutes binding their electors to their pledges, constitutional authorities have raised doubts as to whether these state laws would be enforceable in the National electionElectoralCollegeMap2016. In a case where no candidate receives a majority of Electoral College votes, the names of the top three candidates are submitted to the House of Representatives for a vote. Then, each state is given one vote to elect the President.

While the popular vote usually correlates with the election of the President, there have been exceptions in American History. In the 1824 election, there was no majority winner in the electoral college. Four candidates split the vote: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford. The election was sent to the House of Representatives who chose John Quincy Adams despite Andrew Jackson winning the popular and electoral votes. The choice was the ultimate result of what is historically referred to as “The Corrupt Bargain,” devised and executed by Adams and Clay. In 1876, Samuel Tilden was chosen by the popular vote, but a special commission overruled this vote, electing President Rutherford B. Hayes instead.  In 1888, Grover Cleveland received more popular votes, but the Electoral College elected President Benjamin Harrison. Most recently, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 with 48.4% of the vote, but President George W. Bush won the Electoral College with 271 votes. 

Meeting on the Level: Equality, Tolerance, and Justice 

Does the American public still lack the responsibility and reasoning necessary to elect the President? Must we still be protected against our  “own temporary errors and delusions” and “violent passions” as James Madison argued? Freemasonry rests under the banner of the universality of all mankind and operates under the principles of tolerance, justice, and equality. When American Citizens are withheld the electoral power to choose our President, are we truly operating as, “we the people?” Can we form a “more perfect union” when we voluntary abdicate our voting choices to others deemed to be more rational and less ruled by passions?  Perhaps, we need to realize the responsibility inherent in acting as mature adults, subdue our unruly passions, and advocate for our equal voting rights in the election of the President. 

Does International Free Trade Promote Freemasonic Ideals? An Analysis of The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty

Does International Free Trade Promote Freemasonic Ideals? An Analysis of The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty

Often viewed as highly contentious, the rubric of free-trade involves numerous nuances that can be polarizing. Does international free trade promote Masonic ideals? Proponents of international free trade argue that treaties, such as The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), help to spread the value of freedom and reinforce the rule of law. Similarly, Freemasonry promotes freedom of thought, speech, and action for all Mankind, regardless of race, religion, or gender.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

In a globalized world, the United States is seeking to expand international free trade in a manner that  addresses 21st century issues. Described as “the cornerstone” of President Obama’s economic policy in the Pacific region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed U.S. treaty with eleven countries, including: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. According to the Brookings Institute, these nations together account for about one-third of all international trade.12countriesTPP
The TPP is intended to enhance trade and investment; promote innovation, economic growth and development; and support the creation of jobs. The proposed agreement began in 2005 as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement. Participating countries set the goal of wrapping up negotiations in 2012, but contentious issues created stumbling blocks in the areas of agriculture, intellectual property, services, and investments. The total GDP of the twelve countries involved with the TPP comprises 40 percent of global GDP, and the proposed benefits of the trade agreement are estimated at $295 billion annually.  

As the major proponent of the treaty, The Obama Administration has argued that the TPP will open up the United States to all kinds of new markets and business. Agribusiness is one area expected to see a large benefit from the TPP by allowing certain U.S. companies new avenues for the sale of their products. Moreover, the Obama Administration stated that the TPP will increase labor and environmental protections in the TPP countries and globally by forcing nations to meet the standards negotiated under the treaty, thereby essentially “leveling the playing field” for American businesses that must currently meet high levels of regulation in these areas.

As one of the primary goals in his trade agenda, President Obama advocated diligently for the implementation of the TLeaders_of_TPPPP. After seven years of negotiations, a final agreement was reached between the 12 countries on October 5, 2015.  The text of the agreement will have to be signed and ratified following the national procedures of each of the individual countries. 

Controversies Surrounding the TPP

The largest controversy surrounding the TPP is that was that it was being negotiated behind closed doors. The governments involved argue that such conditions are necessary in order to reach agreements, which involve complex issues related to multilateral trade and global investments. The U.S. government responded to complaints regarding the secrecy of ongoing investigations stating, “In order to reach agreements that each participating government can fully embrace, negotiators need to communicate with each other with a high degree of candor, creativity, and mutual trust.” In the interest of all governments involved, it has become routine practice for proposals and communications related to negotiated treaties to be kept confidential.  

Another issue regarding the TPP is whether it would actually improve labor conditions. In a document entitled, Broken Promises, Senator SenatorElizabethWarrenElizabeth Warren outlined ‘lack of enforcement’ as one of the major criticisms of free trade agreements.

“By now, we have two decades of experience with free trade agreements under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. Supporters of these agreements have always promised that they contain tough standards to protect workers. But this analysis reveals that the rhetoric has not matched the reality.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Warren highlights that there have been widespread enforcement problems with the free trade agreements enacted in the past two decades. The U.S. State Department has written several reports revealed persistent inadequacies related to reducing child labor and enforcing labor rights in countries that have signed free trade agreements with the United States.

Yet another controversy involves legal issues surrounding the agreement. Leaked chapters of the TPP have intellectual property advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, concerned that the TPP over-extends copyright laws and fair use rules. Doctors Without Borders has voiced concern that the TPP could unfairly impact citizens in third world countries by making it more expensive to obtain generic drugs, thus restricting access to medicine for some of the poorest individuals world-wide.

FreemGeorgeWashingtonFreemasonasonry and Free Trade

Does free-trade promote Freemasonic ideals? According to the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, countries with the most trade freedom have higher per capita GDPs, lower incidences of hunger, lower rates of unemployment, and cleaner environments than countries at the bottom of the trade freedom scale.

Freemasonry stands as a global organization dedicated to improving the lives of all people through charity and brotherly love.Moreover, free trade among nations has been shown to promote peaceful international relations. When free-trade exists across political boundaries, the world becomes more integrated as individuals and companies interact.  As President George Washington wrote in 1791, Masonry was “founded in justice and benevolence,” and “the grand object of Masonry is to promote the happiness of the human race.”