Thursday, August 11, 2016

President Trump

First, for those of you who are into numbers, my last post was my 300th.  Also, a while back  my blog passed 100,000 "hits".  Of course, I know that the most popular blogs get more than that many visits in a single day,  Still, I am happy to have been able to continue sharing my thoughts for the past 6 years, proud that I have stuck with it to have created 300 posts, and appreciative that so many people have visited my blog.

Now, on to President Trump.  Latest polls indicate that he is trailing Hillary Clinton by anywhere from 3 to 10 percentage points.  Additionally, polls in the swing states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, show him behind.  Still, there is almost 3 months to go before the election, and all the debates to watch, for those on the fence, or those who may still be favoring one candidate but still open to switching allegiance.

If, in fact, Trump were to win the day, would everything come crashing to a halt?  Would the economy tank?  Would Trump actually authorize a nuclear strike, or send in our military against the first national leader who insults him?  Would diplomacy be replaced by "I know best"?  Would an actual wall be built separating the United States and Mexico, and if so, who would pay and high tall might it be?  Would anyone with a Muslim sounding name be barred from America, or just from his cabinet and close advisers?  Would the Affordable Care Act be repealed leaving millions of newly insured Americans uninsured, and reversing the act's core principals of capping lifetime co-pays, eliminating the pre-existing condition obstacle to obtaining medical insurance, and allowing children to remain on their parents' policies to age 26?  Would most of his tax cuts ultimately advantage the rich, resulting in more American children living in poverty?  Would his Supreme Court appointee revitalize the other conservative members of the Court and help reverse some of the decisions that have extended the benefits of the Bill of Rights. and the Constitution to those minorities previously outside those protections?  Would abortion be illegal and doctors preforming abortions (along with the mothers having them) be prosecuted?  Would women be viewed with the bias and prejudice of the new president, losing the gains they have made in rising to leadership levels in business and politics?

All these possibilities, and more, have been predicted should Donald Trump be elected in November.

But be at ease, and cut and paste the link below to see the predictions of the far Right should Obama win the election of 2008.  

My point, of course, isn't that we shouldn't worry about a Trump presidency.  I can not emphasize enough my objections to him as president, both as a leader, and as a person.  However, the beauty of our government with its three branches and triad design of responsibility and power, assures us that regardless of his shortcomings, President Trump will not, can not, bring down the United States.  We must all have faith in our system, and each other, to elect a Congress that will check his policy proposals, and a judiciary that will weigh any new laws against the precedents, meaning, and actual wording of our great documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Remember, there have been some pretty bad presidents.  Corrupt, racist, mean spirited and just plain stupid.  Yet here we are, the only real military power, the destination for virtually all those people who seek opportunity and freedom, the strongest economy, and the home of the athletes with the most medals in Rio.  An informed electorate is all we need to counter the effects of a poor president. And, future episodes of Last Week Tonight.

So, that being said, what good could come from Donald Trump occupying the White House?

First, he does not routinely talk about limiting abortion rights, and scaling back recent social progress in the area of marriage equality and LGBT rights.  That being said, he may still sign legislation passed by the House, which makes it all the more critical that the Senate majority be Democratic.  If he does lean towards the right in these issues, I expect it will be as a way to get his economic programs passed.  Of course, Trump is not big on compromise, and frankly, progress on social issues is generally found to enhance business opportunities, so he may take his lead from the business community rather than evangelicals.

Second, his massive tax break proposals will need to be offset by benefit reductions.  Will he borrow some of Paul Ryan's proposals concerning cutting medicare and social security?  If so, some of his popularity among older voters may be lessened.   I assume he will target those with the least, as most GOP proposals do, but some of those changes will hurt the blue collar, middle class white man that is the base of his popularity.  And, who knows, he certainly talks tough, but when he sees the details of the bloated Pentagon budget, perhaps he will carve into it, alienating those who consider "nuking" our enemies a viable strategy.

But the biggest area of conflict might be his promise to bring home jobs from overseas, the very foundation of all multi-national corporations (his included) which do not consider national borders when searching for cheap labor.  Will he penalize those businesses that provide services via off shore call centers?  Or those that manufacture in Southeast Asia and China?  Will he impose tariffs on countries that he views as competing unfairly?  Will he publicly humiliate those businesses who are the worst offenders in using cheap overseas labor, as he does when discussing anyone who disagrees with or criticizes him?  Remember, low or no tariffs, trade pacts, and preferential tax laws for "job creators" is the GOP formula for business success, and it is those concepts that many of Trumps' supporters despise.

In the end, perhaps, should we weather the uncertainty of Trump's next ill-advised tweet, his misogynistic attitude towards women, his belittling of prisoners of war, his arguments with the parents of dead American soldiers, his every fact twisting, name calling, egotistical tirade that he calls press conferences, perhaps the American voter will grow up and realize that democracy is not a spectator sport, that a true leader can move his (or her) programs forward even when there is disagreement, and that the best man is not the richest, loudest, or most boastful, but the person who works to improve the lives of the least among us.        

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Imperfect Candidate

Recent polls suggest that the two presidential nominees have the greatest "negative" ratings - that is that the percentage of those polled have a negative opinion about the candidate - of any nominees since this kind of polling began.  Both candidates, with Trump only slightly ahead of Clinton.

Sometimes, of course, poll results can be misleading.  If one asks a question, which lists four areas of concern, and all four choices are in line with the questioner's agenda, then it is easy to publish a survey result that indicates that only topics deemed problematic by the pollster matter to the public.  I recently received one such survey from my state rep asking for a ranking of the problems that concern me most and climate change was not on his list.

Also, the current climate of extremism on both sides of the fence produces so much negative publicity for Trump and Clinton that anyone watching Fox TV would conclude that Hillary is a liar, while anyone watching MSNBC would conclude that Donald is a racist bully.  Dirty laundry attracts viewers which increases ratings which attracts sponsors, which is far more important that accuracy and fairness.

In the meantime, Trump supporters wave his banners and truly believe that he can save the United States from the path of doom and destruction that we are on, while Clinton supporters equally believe that only she can navigate the complexity of being president.   And, lest we not forget, tens of millions of people voted for each of them in their respective primaries.

Is this "unfavorable" rating thing actually meaningful then?  It certainly makes good politics when both sides can say that the other candidate is not well liked, and it is a boon for all forms of media which rely on increases in viewers, readers, and listeners to stay relevant and viable.

To me, a more telling question is, despite your misgivings, would you still vote for (fill in the blank).

I pose this slight alteration, because when push comes to shove, a significant percentage of those with unfavorable opinions of the candidates will still vote for one of them.  You might even say that the winner will be the candidate who gets the highest percentage of those that consider them unfavorable but still the better choice.

In short, which imperfect candidate will win the day?  Remember, in the end, all presidents. past, present and future were imperfect men (and someday women), disliked by a large percentage of the population, and ridiculed in private and public for their policies and omissions in policy.

To prove that point, Google the name of any of our most revered leaders with the phrase
"criticism of" preceding that name and you will get many returns referencing scathing rebukes
by both their contemporaries and scholars.

Here is one for Abraham Lincoln.

Here is one for George Washington

While we can surely debate if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the best and brightest that America has to offer for potential presidents, let's not assume that similar complaints about every president did not exist.

So, if we assume that both are imperfect candidates, how to choose?

Some voters will choose to ignore the negative press about their choice, chalking up any bad reports on partisan politics.  This "drinking the koolaid" as it is often called, allows the electorate to deny the reality that all people have flaws, make mistakes, speak out of turn, lie, and sometimes make choices that help them while harming others.  One might call it the papal infallibility trait except we replace God' divine grace which grants it to the pope, with the power of the ballot.  It enables us to place the future of our country in the hands of someone who, merely by their winning an election, is magically more sound in their judgments and fair in the their policies.  It is reflected by the so called honeymoon stage of a new president's term, which is often marked by a burst of new legislation, approved with bipartisan support by Congress.  Like a new marriage, we focus on the good traits of our partner while ignoring the bad.

Some voters throw up their arms and choose not to vote, in the mistaken hope that if enough people stay at home, the process will change and better candidates will be supplied.  Sadly, this has never worked, will never work, and actually works against the non-voter.  When less people vote, more influence is gained by those who are one issue voters, or of extreme opinions.  Voting is not a take it or leave it proposition, but a right, earned not only by the bloodshed of those who died in the nascent years of our democracy but in every war for freedom since.  Sometimes we must make difficult choices in life, and only the faint of heart walk away from those choices.

Then there are the voters who know that there will never be a candidate whose policies, perspectives and personal beliefs match their own.  They evaluate the candidates with regard to multiple issues, choosing the one who aligns best with their overall priorities or those of significantly more importance.  We forget that in 2008, Barrack Obama had not yet publicly committed to marriage equality yet I imagine that many in the LGBT community still voted for him based on a number of other issues of which his position did match theirs.

Finally, despite the rhetoric of one of the two candidates, no one person can solve our problems.  That is the beauty of the three branches of government as designed by our founders.  It takes a strong leader, no doubt, but an equally strong legislature to fashion new laws to specifically address problems, and a strong judiciary to rule on the legality of those laws on the occasion when the majority tramples upon the rights of the minority.

From that respect, the electorate should examine the platforms of the parties, GOP, Libertarian and Democrat, knowing that most of those elected, including the president, had a hand in the development of those tenets, and will govern with an eye towards support for those beliefs.  I encourage you to Google those platforms so that when when you cast your ballot you do so with more knowledge than just the latest sound bite or convention speeches.  And, don't forget to research the voting patterns of those running for reelection.  Do they garner high marks from environmental groups if that is a priority for you?  Do they vote in ways that seem to align with the size and frequency of their campaign donations?

Like so many other areas in life, I believe that the more information, the more "election educated" the electorate becomes, the better will be our choices.  But, even if you decide to vote "with your gut", better that, than to eschew your obligation to participate.  Let's hope that come November, we will collectively choice the best imperfect candidate possible.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Black and White

Sorry for the gap in time since my last post.  After July 4th, I worked 17 days straight, which led right to our yearly family vacation.  Many ideas swirling through my mind, but never felt the need to post, or perhaps just didn't have the desire.  I guess writing can be like that, as is true about all of life's experiences.  Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.

So much has happened this past month, especially in regards to the 2016 Presidential Election.  Now that we know who the nominees are, the long slog (not my word, heard it a few times in print and on TV this past weekend but it seems right on) begins.

But there is plenty of time for that.

First, a comment or two about a recent headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer which reflected the speech given by President Obama after the horrific killing of 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas.  The headline was "Not Who We Are".  Of course, the vast majority of Americans are shocked at the killing of those who work to protect and to serve.  It is the kind of lawlessness that, regardless of any possible justification, must be universally condemned.  We must remain united in our stand against violence directed as those who put their lives on the line, despite the many other areas in which we may disagree.

But, we may want to take a second look at the statement "Not Who We Are", not from the perspective of a unified stand against violence directed at law enforcement, but from the idea that we are not divided, and that within that division there is not real prejudice at work.

The election of the first African American President was a watershed for America, both politically and socially.  While there were certainly some who voted for him because he was black, and others who voted against him because he was black, Obama won both the 2008 and 2012 elections with large pluralities across almost all possible population groups.  In essence, he was judged to be fit to be our leader, due to his vision, and his uplifting message to the electorate.

Unfortunately, during his 8 years in office, those who could not accept this revolutionary concept, fought his efforts to fulfill his vision every step of the way.  Whether it was by questioning his birth nation, his patriotism, or his desire to be president for white people, there was a non-stop attack on Obama, his policies, and his intentions.  I do not have statistics to support this, but I do not feel I am wrong when I say that no other president in modern times, was attacked on so many levels than Barack Obama.  Led by the Fox Network, commentator after commentator disagreed with his policies, which is fine, then implied those policies were meant to destroy America, that he purposefully hated the country he was elected to lead.

In the meantime, black Americans, beside themselves with joy at this historic turn, became empowered to advance black issues that had been ignored.  Unemployment rates double and triple that of other races.  Discrepancies in percentage of young black men in jail for crimes similar to those of their white counterparts.  Too few black police officers, parole officers, and judges in the judicial system which seemed to correspond to those places with unusually high incarceration rates for people of color.  And high profile cases of black men being killed by white police officers which almost always resulted in those officers being acquitted of any wrongdoing.

Sadly, rather than uniting us in our continuing mutual struggle to improve the rights of all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, etc. those cases merely caused the two sides to dig in even deeper.  Those who were already neck deep in the backlash against the new reality, blamed Obama for exacerbating race relations, even while denying that prejudice still existed in the judicial system and among a minority of police departments.  Rather than joining with those of color to make our legal system truly blind to emotion, those forces against diversity rallied behind pundits who blamed the victim rather than the criminal.  Just as phrases like boys will be boys were used to justify rape when a girl wore a skirt too short, intimations flowed like water that a higher percentage of blacks behind bars and in trouble must be because they are black, statistics that whites commit crimes at similar rates not withstanding.

Of course, race relations has always been a visceral issue.  Statistics can never trump raw emotion and deep seated prejudice.  We see the same kind of emotion when immigration is debated.  The facts that immigrants have always added to America's strength, economically as well as socially, that even illegal immigrants do more good for America than bad, means little when it is convenient to blame our troubles on outsiders rather than looking in the mirror.

So perhaps, this is who we are.  A nation in transition.  Able to accept the equality of all people intellectually, but not emotionally.  We can vote for a black leader because our vote is cast with forethought, with reason.  But we demonstrate, we demonize, we revert back to whatever prejudice lurks in our roots when trouble comes a calling.  We forget that no issue is black and white, that gray areas abound in all discussions.  We prefer simple answers to complex problems, and generally speaking, simple answers rely on simple thinking processes, rather than in depth analysis.

We prefer to talk of walls regardless of how unrealistic that answer is, rather than conciliation, and acknowledgement that white and non-white people are part of the problem, and part of the solution.

Finally, though I recognize we may be in the midst of a slight backward step, we must also understand that a slight backward step often follows a leap forward.  The old guard, those who prefer to pretend all was right and golden in the past before (name your minority) demanded equal treatment, those who represent that mindset are fading from view.  They represent a time when separate but equal was OK with them, when women stayed at home, out of the boardroom and halls of government, when gay described a good time.

So, I think it is with good reason that I continue to be hopeful, continue to believe that the old guard is slowly being replaced by a new awareness, a new perspective on how we treat each other.  I continue to believe that the coalition forged by Obama among women, the young and unmarried,
non-whites, moderates of both parties, and those with weaker ties to the dogma of religions, will continue to exert a bigger influence on the direction of our country, and will eventually erase the backward step we are experiencing with another leap forward.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brexit, Trump and the Power of Fear

The vote by those living in the United Kingdom to leave or stay in the European Union (EU) occurred this past week.   I have read a number of stories about the "Brexit" vote, most of them from the media of the United Kingdom.  A few interesting facts:

Turnout was 71% of eligible voters, the highest percentage for a nationwide vote in almost 35 years. That is over 30 million people!

Younger voters voted overwhelmingly to Remain, while a majority of older voters opted to Leave.   Unfortunately for the disappointed younger voters, those in the 18-24 year old voting bloc stayed home in droves, while older voters chose to participate in their country's future.  Strange, considering that it is the younger generation who will need to live with the consequences, good and bad, of this historic decision.  More than one pundit put the blame for Leave squarely on younger voters using math to demonstrate that had 70% of young voters managed to inconvenience themselves and go to a polling station, Remain may have won the day.

Of the four countries that comprise the United Kingdom, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, voters in two of the countries voted for Leave, England and Wales, while voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain.   The fact that the voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain but, by their inclusion in the United Kingdom are compelled to Leave, has sparked new discussions of an independent Scotland vote (one was just recently held in which voters chose to stay in the UK), and talks of a reunification of Northern Ireland with Southern Ireland which is not a part of the UK.

For more information about the ramifications of this decision, which will effect every aspect of life in the UK as you will see by the breadth of the article, cut and past the following link (from BBC, of course), into your browser.

Some of the articles I read in American newspapers, linked the popularity of Donald Trump with the result of the Brexit voting.  While there were a number of reasons proffered for leaving the EU, with saving the money which the UK contributes to the EU for homeland needs, and less onerous EU regulations for business among them, many consider Europe's continuing immigration dilemma to be the driving force behind those who voted to Leave, as one of the tenets of membership in the EU is the free movement of people between member countries. By leaving the EU, Leave proponents promised that the UK would better be able to control immigration and secure its borders from those not welcome.

Which brings us to The Donald.

It seems clear from exiting polls and the various national surveys, that Trump's popularity is limited to white males.  As has been the case for the Republican Party in recent times, many in the white majority vote for GOP candidates based on a negative perception of women, Latinos, African Americans, the LGBT community, and any other minority.  This viewpoint, stoked by the GOP, inflames the fires of its white base by blaming the ills of America on those minorities.  While the GOP establishment may react with outrage at the more openly prejudiced and outlandish of Trump's statements, the path towards an all white party has been laid brick by brick these last 50 years.  At least Trump has the courage to state it out loud, and not pretend, which is why his following is so loyal.  He says what they think, or have been taught to think, about women, blacks, Mexicans and gays, while the politicians who have conspired with the extreme right wing pundits to encourage those biases, downplay them in public to win the votes of those just slightly right or left of center, especially the independents.

Getting back to Brexit, the money which will be "saved" by eliminating the membership fees in the EU, is significant, perhaps 5 to 10 billion pounds.  However, considering that the 2016 spending budget for the UK was 716 billion pounds, we are talking about a 1% savings.

(By the way, if you want to see that budget, revenue and expenses, cut and paste the following link.  You might want to sort expenses in descending order and note where defense falls)

And, as for the business community, most favored Remain, as it enables the free movement of goods across the borders of 27 other countries.  While it is not the best comparison, there was a day when all the states of America levied tariffs on goods which crossed their borders,even from other states. Now, of course, that idea seems ridiculous, but at the time, legislators and businessmen felt the need to protect the business community of their individual state from the dumping of cheap goods from other states.  Membership in the EU grants the UK business community the luxury of exporting its goods to other countries with less monetary obstacles which explains their disappointment in the vote.  Of course, there is some hope that a future trade agreement between the UK and the EU might be forged that will maintain that favored status, but in the meantime, there is uncertainty, and it is uncertainly that the business community abhors, hence the temporary plunge in stocks across the globe.

Which seems to point to the immigration issue as the main reason for Leave votes.  Yet, like the rhetoric of Trump, is this issue driven more by fear than facts?

"Most of them are criminals and rapists" appeals to an already existing prejudice and gut feelings about people with a different skin color and culture.  Yet, most studies indicate that illegals are less likely to be involved in crime for fear of being deported.

"Ban all Muslims", or "Ban all immigration from countries who are our enemies", or any other such phrase gets loud applause at Trump rallies, but has he visited one of the hundreds of refugee camps in Turkey or Greece and seen that upwards of two thirds of these unfortunate people are women and children who have been forced from the homes due to violence and instability?  And what about the fact that most of the 911 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia?  Also, if the next domestic act of violence is committed by a 2nd generation American from Germany, will Trump add Germany to his banned list (after all, they were our enemy in the worst wars in history)?  Or how about France; we don't like them and they don't like us right?

Certainly, immigration, illegal or otherwise, is a difficult issue.  But there are two sides to immigration, the side that admits that when you allow millions of people to enter your country, there will be some bad apples, and the contrasting viewpoint that immigration is good for a country by providing new ideas, new cultures, a new source of labor.  Do we paint all people of a certain nationality or religion with one broad brush or acknowledge that most immigrants are everyday people trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children?  And, with that acknowledgement, fashion immigration policy that recognizes that a structure to identify and remove those with evil intent must include a path for those, like our own ancestors, who are good people in search of work and safety.  Just as all Italians were not deported when the Italian Mafia plagued some of our bigger cities, all Muslims or Mexicans need not be barred from America because of the actions of the minority.

Unfortunately, as long as there are politicians and news organizations that prosper from populist movements that rely on fear mongering, decisions to retreat into a shell, to blame anyone not like us, and to vote with out regard to facts, will remain with us.  


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Repeal 2nd Amendment?

Quiet, relaxing morning allowed me to read the Sunday Inquirer, and gave me the inspiration for today's post.

The sports section first, my fluff reading so to speak.  Fluff because while I enjoy watching sports, I don't get as excited as some "fans" who live and die with the city's sports teams.  

Then right to the lead story in the Currents (Opinion) section which featured pro and con arguments for gun control.  Unfortunately, nothing new there, nothing we haven't heard ad nauseum after each and every mass killing, which is the really sad and terrible part, that there have been so many of these horrific acts.

At the back of Currents, an interesting letter to the editor in which the writer encouraged religious leaders of all faiths to preach a repeal of the 2nd amendment.

Finally, the Local section which included a summary of the higher profile votes taken by our elected officials in Washington this past week.  But before I reached that page, I found a thought provoking article by one of the staff writers concerning the everyday anguish that occurs in America as a result of senseless violence, both mass killings like in Orlando and the less publicized but more common violence that happens all too often in our neighborhoods, especially in those of our big cities.  At the end, the writer asks the frequently asked question which is voiced after all such mass killing events - When will this end?

Then, finally, back to the votes on Capitol Hill.

In the House, a vote to block a floor vote on a bill (shelved in the GOP controlled Judiciary Committee since Feb 2015) which would prohibit the sale of firearms or explosives to individuals on the FBI's Terrorist Watch List.  That's right, the GOP controlled house is against such a bill in its current form.  Although to defend those GOP representatives, the House did pass by overwhelming majority an anti-terrorism package that among other things, requires better cooperation between law enforcement agencies and requires the Department of Home Land Security to more effectively counter ISIS recruitment propaganda.  Pretty bold move, eh?

And, of course, the House passed a $576 billion military appropriations bill (the Senate's version is $602 billion).  Sadly, the House version stripped out funding for the president's directive to the Department of Defense (DOD) to identify and assess the impact of climate change on national security (classic head in the sand thinking), and voted to refuse to consider a new round of military base closings despite the DOD's own estimates that it has a 22% surplus in its domestic facilities.

Finally, the GOP controlled House voted not to limit surveillance currently authorized under the Patriot Act.  Among other strategies not deemed illegal, are the ability of the government to coerce businesses to build security flaws in their products that would facilitate searches by law enforcement agencies, and the necessity of the NSA to obtain warrants for the surveillance of American citizens' overseas communications as is required for domestic communications.

So, to be succinct, the GOP controlled House is more than eager to weaken pretty much any of the amendments to the Constitution when it comes to fighting terrorism, except the 2nd Amendment. Can you say NRA influenced, GOP controlled House?

Still, at the end of the day, it is not fair to blame those men and women.  In reality, we all share the blame via the culture of violence that permeates America.  It is not about having a weapon that can mow down multiple targets, it is about the belief that it is OK to use violence to resolve disagreement and conflict.  And, it is certainly not about the 2nd amendment right to self defense, as other military only weapons, bazookas, tanks, napalm, etc, are illegal for sale to everyday citizens, just as assault weapons and guns with the ability to fire multiple bullets in seconds should be.

But again, will such a ban eliminate killing in America?  Not as long as we believe in the Hollywood shoot em up movies and lessons derived from such, that good people with guns always do the right thing.  And the mistaken mantra of the NRA that more good people with guns will deter the bad people from both committing crimes, and may even stop those acts in process, and that new gun laws will only keep law abiding citizens from owning guns.

Which brings me to a query?

What do you call a person the day before they kill one of more people with a legally purchased gun?
A law abiding citizen.

Unfortunately, good people do bad things.  Sometimes in the heat of passion, sometimes during the fight or flight adrenaline rush that evolution has provided for us, sometimes as a reaction to difficult times, stressful situations, mistreatment or merely bad luck.  While I would like to think that we are evolving towards a time when violence will be the last choice of conflict resolution, not first, in the meantime, perhaps it is time to consider that the technology to harm each other has surpassed our sense of morality that prevents such harm.  And that in our current state of fear which is whipped up daily by those who profit from our anxieties, it is even more critical to limit access to tools which are meant for one purpose only, to mete out easy and efficient death.

Repeal the 2nd Amendment as was so bravely suggested?  No chance.  But restrictions on the type of guns that can be owned, regardless of the "goodness" of the owner, can be created that would limit availability of such weapons while still providing recognizing that responsible gun ownership needs to be supported.  

And, to answer the question of when will it end?  Perhaps when all our leaders, government and religious, and all those who have influence will preach love, understanding and restraint rather that hatred, ridicule and violence.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pacifism, and Murder in America

Another mass killing event recently.  Possible anti-gay sentiments, probable anti-America sentiments (even though he was a native American), most assuredly mental instability issues.  As soon as the story hit, the predictable sides were formed.  I sometimes wonder if in 50 years, historians will shake their heads at the NRA, and wonder how they were allowed to exert so much influence on our elected public servants, as well as those citizens who mistake self defense for the right to kill.

As a consequence of this most recent mass killing, there is a push to make it illegal for anyone on the FBI's watch list for terror suspects to purchase guns.  Apparently, the Orlando killer had been on that list, but was removed after a 10 month investigation.  Sounds like common sense, to deny 2nd Amendment rights to anyone suspected of terrorism, yet I thought the entire argument for no new gun laws was that if a criminal wanted a gun, they would get it despite the law.  So, how does this law prevent anything?

In fact, how does any law prevent a criminal from breaking that law if the fear of incarceration or punishment does not exist in their minds?  I guess laws are only for the law abiding citizen because he/she is afraid of getting caught, not because the act is wrong or immoral.

Oh, but wait.  Without a law and its consequences, when someone does commit a crime, there would be no way to punish them.   I guess that means that the penal code exists, not just to deter crime, as those who argue for the death penalty cite, (funny how some of the very same people against gun laws are advocates of this line of thinking in relation to capital punishment) but to have a mechanism to punish those who violate the laws that have been established to protect the vast majority of citizens.

Ah, the two sides of a civil debate on the necessity of laws which establish right and wrong, the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment which allows for the right to self defense, but not necessarily the right to own military weapons that can only be used for mass killings, and the facts that indicate that America has a love affair with vigilantism, and a completely blind belief that guns owned by good people will only be used for good.

Oddly, I published two short stories on Amazon earlier this week.  They are The Pacifist and The Massacre that Changed America, combined under the name Pacifism, and Murder in America.

Copy and paste the link below to access information to purchase this most recent effort.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Government VS Business

Recently I have come to realize the obvious; we need more cooperation between the business community and our government leaders to solve our nation's problems.  I say obvious, not necessarily because it is an obvious topic of discussion on the airwaves, in print and on social media, but because if one is to look back on most of the great successes which have occurred of late, it is through cooperation that success has been attained.

How did America progress from a country just emerging from the Great Depression to help defeat Hitler and the Nazis during World War 2?  Cooperation from the business community in diverting energy from domestic to war time products as well as the cooperation of the American public to sacrifice a little for the war effort.  And afterwards, when the men returned from war?  Cooperation between the government and educational system to provide skills to the veterans, and then cooperation between government and businesses to provide jobs for those same veterans.

One might say that the explosive growth of the middle class after WW2 was due in large part to such cooperation.  Most people forget that individual and corporate taxes were astronomical by today's standards, yet, whether by design or happenstance, this level of taxation enabled the government to invest in the people of America via education and jobs.  Businesses still thrived, despite the lower profits and individual wealth, because those working employees and customers alike, had money to spend via the education that opened new doors and the livable wages being earned.  I like to call it bottom up economics, a drastic departure from the trickle down theories that became popular in the 1980's.  Certainly there were rich people and poor people, some of that due to the racial and gender discrimination that still existed in the 50s and 60s, but by most measures of quality of life, America reached its apex in those decades following the Great War.

Currently, it would not be fantasy to suggest that the United States is still the best place in which to live and raise a family.  However, by most quality of life standards, education, income, health, life expectancy, etc, we have fallen down the list.

What has changed?

Too much success too fast?  Some might argue that our role in freeing the world from the clutches of evil, and our eventual victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, left us no where to go but down.
Or perhaps we just forgot how we got there?  Cooperation.

To me, the creation of the corporation, that ultimate legal instrument that provides the benefits of success without the responsibilities of failure, began the decline.  Of course, at first, it provided a boon.  Initially, it seduced even those who knew that double digit growth was not sustainable. Cheaper products manufactured off shore produced a bump in revenue, with less labor costs.  The fact that real people were losing their jobs, people who previously purchased the products and services of the corporations, seemed lost on those making the decisions.

The allure of the stock market, and the ability to "earn" millions of dollars just by giving money to those corporations via stocks, again worked for many, became a cog in the evolving wheel that defined the American dream.  But those corporations and the value of that stock was controlled by individuals more interested in making the stock more valuable.  Responsibility to the stock holders was priority one, responsibility to the employees, their families and the communities where they lived fell by the wayside.  

Or maybe, we were cognizant that cooperation was necessary, but forgot that the end result of that partnership was supposed to be the good of all Americans.  Some might say that our current tax system, even the current state of our political system, has resulted in too much cooperation between Big Business and our government leaders to rig the economic system in favor of those holding the cards.  Big trade agreements open up markets, and provide more competition and choice, but are used to justify even more job outsourcing.  New laws that aim to provide health insurance for those who face bankruptcy or death when they get a losing hand in the birth lottery, are used to justify reduced hours for employees by employers who refuse to do the right thing, and then given a pass by the some public servants who should hold them accountable but prefer campaign donations.

Still, I read articles on an almost daily basis about government and business cooperation that results in change for the better.  From fighting malaria in Africa, to providing safe migration routes to true wildlife in western America, there is much to celebrate when government and business cooperate for a positive reason.  And lets not forget the simple tax break which allows charitable contributions and helps millions of Americans attain food, shelter, and medicine when they draw a losing birth lottery hand.

It is all well and good to use eminent domain to justify the removal of poor people from their homes so that a sparkling new casino can be built, if those displaced people are provided with a better opportunity and that community prospers via jobs, improved schools, and safer streets.  But it does not benefit America when the vast majority of the income from that casino finds its way to too few pockets.  Not to mention when the casino fails and the American taxpayer gets the bill via bankruptcy laws that grant forgiveness to the corporation's principals.

As in all partnerships, there should always be a certain amount of tension.  Stories of successful athletic teams with individuals who fought off field abound.  Businesses should be free to manufacture and market products without regulation which strangles incentive, but they also need to be aware that without some restrain, there are those in business who will violate any and all common courtesy for others.  Will do anything, say anything, for money.  The American people need to be protected from these sharks, and so business profitability may suffer a bit in the short run but will be the better for it when those who value money above people are prosecuted.

Conversely, government officials, especially well meaning ones, need to stay focused on regulations that target specific behaviors and actions, and remember that top down approaches should only be the answer in extreme cases.  Regulations that work in New York may not work in Colorado.  Perhaps it would be better if the word "guidelines" came back in vogue.  Leave the specifics to the state and local lawmakers as much as feasible.

I guess, in the end, it is about cooperation that helps others, not just ourselves.  Cooperation that recognizes that sometimes short term sacrifice results in long term productivity.  Cooperation that raises prospects without harming a segment of the population without voice or recourse.  Cooperation that presumes the sharing of power, not exclusivity of it for one side or the other.


Monday, June 6, 2016

The Passing of Muhammad Ali

The passing of Muhammad Ali over the weekend has generated a huge amount of news coverage, both in the established media outlets of print, TV and radio, and on the the social networks of twitter, facebook, etc.  While certainly not surprising considering his multi-decade fight against Parkinson's Disease, it is still a shock when a sports hero of such fame and accomplishment leaves us.

For me, Ali was always the foil against Joe Frazier, perhaps more so than for most people as I was born and raised in Philadelphia and its suburbs.  I can still remember my disappointment when Ali was victorious in the Thrilla in Manilla, that iconic battle that will be forever remembered in boxing history.  Ali personified the outspoken athlete in those days, dancing and taunting his opponents until he surprised them with his strength and punching power.  Frazier won with grit and guts, relentlessly taking the best punch his opponents could muster until unleashing one of his devastating hooks to the jaw.

For me, Frazier was the man of the people, Ali the braggart, the showman.

Later, as an adult, I realized that while Ali's career as a boxer was and will always be legendary, his stature as a man was even more heroic.  I was a bit too young to fully understand the ramifications of his suspension from boxing for failure to report for military duty.  My perspective was mostly colored by the adults in my life who condemned him for his perceived lack of patriotism, at best, cowardice at worst.  Perhaps that is part of why I rooted against Ali during the years after his suspension was overturned by the Supreme Court.  I can distinctly recall listening to the fight in Zaire, and being crushed when Ali beat George Foreman so easily.

But as time passed, I was able to gain a more adult perspective of Ali's resistance to enlisting during the Vietnam War.  Clearly, like any protester, Ali was well within his rights to express his opinion that the war in Southeast Asia was morally indefensible.  But what is most impressive, is that unlike the vast majority of Americans protesting that war, Ali put his money where his mouth was.  He was at the peak of his manhood, late 20's, looking at many more chances to earn a lifetime of money, and cement his legacy as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, yet he walked away from it.  How many of us would do the same today?

What is most striking to me about that time in history, is that Ali was not the only athlete or person of fame who converted to Islam.  Others, not as famous, but still in the public eye did the same, many of those also to the detriment of their careers.  The teachings of Mohammad, and the spirit of Islam motivated those people to swim against the stream and embrace a religion that was not considered American.  How Ali lived his life during those times, and after as his mind began to betray him, only he and his god know for sure but the multitude of stories I have heard seem to indicate that his public demeanor as the "greatest", included the willingness to be among the public, the everyday men, women and children who he encountered.

Now, of course, Islam is perceived in an entirely different light.  Where we once scorned those who chose that religion over a Christian one, as cowards, only fifty years later we now perceive many of that faith as terrorists.  I imagine that, as is usually the case, the truth is somewhere in between.  But one thing is for sure, the persona created by Muhammad Ali, the incredible combination of killer in the ring and gentleman outside it, will never be repeated.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day!

According to Wikipedia, Memorial Day has been observed in America for almost 150 years, beginning after the Civil War as Decoration Day, a day established by an organization of Union veterans to honor Union soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers.  As time passed, the day evolved into one in which all veterans of all wars were honored.

Unfortunately, also per Wikipedia, there are plenty of war deaths to honor; approximately 1.5 million fatalities, in addition to another 1.5 million wounded or missing.  Interestingly, while many more American lives were lost during the American Civil War (upwards of 750,000, compared to 400,000 in WW2), there were more military lives lost in combat during World War 2, about 300,000 compared to the Civil War (a little over 210,000).  Similarly, and perhaps surprisingly, twice as many Americans lost their lives during the Revolutionary War outside of combat (17,000) as in combat (only 8,000).  Of course, we don't note method of death on our veterans graves, don't separate those that died from gunfire from those who died of starvation or disease. 

One can easily conclude from a quick perusal of the death and injured charts, that we have seen a tremendous advance in our ability to treat and save the lives of our injured warriors.  Up until the 20th century, more deaths occurred in war than injuries, presumably because the injured died of their wounds before treatment or transport to medical facilities was possible.  During the World Wars, more were injured than dead, and by the Korean and Vietnam Wars that ratio grew to 3 to 1.  Now, statistics from our latest conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate just how advanced our in-field medical technology has advanced as only one in nine injured soldiers die of their wounds.

Of course, the scale of wars America has been involved in has no comparison today than during our very worst war, against ourselves, and in the World Wars of the 20th century.  Literally hundreds of deaths occurred to Americans per day in those conflicts; over 400 per day during the Civil War, and almost 300 per day during the World Wars.  Imagine that, each and every day for years at a time, hundreds of American families lost a loved one.  Perhaps the good news is that only 11 or so deaths occurred per day during Vietnam, yet those deaths spurred everyday Americans to question the legitimacy of our involvement in that conflict.

At this point, many people forget that the Iraq-Afghanistan is the longest running war in American history recently surpassing the Vietnam War.  Perhaps because ONLY 1.5 soldiers have died in the years since 2001 during this war, and only dozens in that last few years, we seem to have forgotten that we are at war at all.  Sad that, except for the occasional politically driven headline about the state of our VA hospitals and the care being given, we also seem to have forgotten about the 50,000+ injured men and women that have resulted from our excursions into those countries. 

While our ability to wage war has increased dramatically, as evidenced by our use of drones to target those we have determine should die, we, at least as of now, are limiting the number of boots on the ground in the Middle East.  Perhaps America has lost her taste for continued deaths of our citizens overseas.  Perhaps we tire of being the world's policemen. 

Still, it is apparent from the recent success of the two presumptive presidential candidates, that use of force is not still attractive when dealing with our enemies.  Hillary Clinton, whether due to the pressures of needing to seem tough in order to get elected as a woman, or whether she truly believes in the use of force, is certainly no dove.  And Donald Trump seems to have never met a reason not to bully or strike back, or a weapon not to be used, when dealing with an adversary he doesn't like or an idea not his own.  

While we wring our hands over the prospect of a nuclear Iran or a North Korean spasm, we applaud certain statements that seem to suggest that we will use force, any force, we deem necessary to stop evil.  What is truly sad is that in 2008 when President Obama was elected, we were knee deep in military deaths.  We elected someone who sought diplomacy before conflict, who seemed to value the lives of those who chose to serve in our military by NOT sending them to die in foreign lands.  For his efforts, he is now accused by some to have made America impotent in the face of ISIS and the various other crazies like them.  Strange that they blink past the needless money and American lives that have been wasted in the Middle East, seeking to double down by spending even more resources and wasting even more lives.  All while we vote with flag in hand and patriotic pin on lapel to spend over $600 billion dollars a year on our military while our public schools strain to pay the bills, and our college graduates face tens of thousands of dollars in debt once they leave school. 

Memorial Day is, and should be about honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for America and for its citizens.  But I hope that there might come a day when it also reminds people of the strength and sacrifice it takes to NOT use violence to solve one problems, whether those problems be personal or national.  To honor those who have died for our country by resorting to violence only as a last resort, not first thought.  To make the meaning of Memorial Day more than remembering those who died but about preventing those deaths in the first place.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Making America Great Again

Clearly, the call for a return to when America was great has inspired the popularity of both "change" candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, that common thread being that the politicians in Washington have been doing the bidding of Big Business/Special Interests at the expense of everyday Americans.  Whether one points to the outsourcing of jobs, tax laws that provide too many loopholes for the rich, or the stagnation of the standard of living for American workers, both change candidates blame Washington.  One might argue that Trump's solutions lean heavily on the demonization of illegal aliens and Muslim terrorists while Sanders pointed to the evil inside America as represented by corporations buying our elected servants, the dysfunction of Washington was the common denominator.  "They" let our borders soften allowing illegals to stream into America, "they" let Big Business move manufacturing jobs overseas where labor was cheap, "they" did nothing to stand up for America in the face of China's growth as an economic power fueled in part by American businesses, currency manipulation, and unfair trade practices.  "They" sold out America for short term profits and long term employment in the public sector.

And, it is easy to get excited by the prospect of finding blame, rooting out the guilty, and marching forward, flag in hand, towards a better day when America is great again as is evident in the meteoric rise in popularity of both Trump and Sanders in the past year. 

But we seem to have missed the answer to an important question; who is responsible for electing these horrific public servants?   Sadly, of course, the answer is the American electorate.  We are responsible for the "mess in Washington", and rather than take credit for our poor record of choosing those we elect, we prefer to divert the blame, and then run into the arms of anyone politically smart enough to realize our greatest weakness; the inability to look in the mirror to place blame.

Even sadder, when the time to vote rolls around, we stay at home in droves.  Over 225 million people were eligible to vote in 2008, yet only 131 million (58%) actually voted.  In 2012, about 235 million people were eligible, yet less people voted than in 2008, dropping the percentage to less than 55%. 
When compared to the voting rates in the "developed" countries, we perform abysmally.
Now, one might make the argument that more people voting won't necessarily mean better results, but at least the elections would reflect the opinions of most of the people, not half.  Some of the better performing countries have passed mandatory voting laws.  Can you imagine forcing Americans to vote?  I wonder what kind of play demonstrators against forced voting laws would get on Fox News?

However, an even bigger question regarding making America great, is how one defines great?  Do we harken back to WW2 when America saved the world from Hitler?  Does that translate into saving the world from ISIS today?  Muslim fanaticism?  Communist China?  What great protagonist do we need to identify (or create), so we can defeat it and become great again.  And, is this greatness dependent on others' agreement, or can we anoint ourselves as great without third party opinion?

Perhaps greatness is having the biggest economy or strongest military.  Check and check.  But do we use those assets to their best advantage?   If you listen to Trump or peruse his ideas, we should be more forceful in the use of our assets to gain advantage.  Economic pain first, the use of force if necessary.  After all, what good is having such might if it is rendered impotent?   Is a country or a person great because they are the strongest and force their will on others? 

Some might postulate that greatness can be reflected in the freedoms granted to all people.  Are Americans the most free people in the world?  We certainly have a history of not allowing all people to enjoy the benefits of our country.  Our treatment of Native Americans and African Americans is not exemplary.  Marriage equality, while finally the law of the land, has created much backlash in some circles where the right to discriminate is religiously based.  I would argue that we are near the top of the list in terms of freedom, yet I suspect that too large a strain of the current push to make America great includes restrictions on some people based on nationality, color and religious affiliation, not expanding freedoms. 

Is greatness a reflection of education?  When I Google "Best Countries for Education", the United States generally ranks in the top 10, frequently top 5 depending on the criteria.  While we do not spend the most per child, we do gain points for having some of the best universities in the world.  I would think that it is a no brainer, given the fact that the next generation of leadership is currently enrolled in our public and private schools, a focus on education might be wise.  Yet I do not see education on the top of the list by some touting American greatness.  In fact, at times, educated people are ridiculed for being smart, while certain scientists in the fields of climate change and evolution are considered anti-capitalist at best, godless at worst.

Perhaps greatness can be defined simply as taking responsibility for one's actions whether individually or as a group.   If we want to believe that American Democracy is one of our greatest inventions, then we must participate, knowingly, in the system.  And, if we are to set the goal of becoming great, or adding to our greatness, then perhaps we need to eschew those definitions that include bullying, extortion and killing, and embrace the concepts of equal opportunity, a more equitable income distribution system, and freedom for all, not just for those that look or worship like ourselves.