Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Trump vs Clinton

After yesterday's Northeast states primaries, it is becoming more and more likely that the next President of the United States, will be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  For some, these choices are painful.  Both score high in negative impressions by the electorate, higher than most recent candidates for president, winners as well as losers. 


Trump is perceived by some as a bully of the highest order, chauvinistic and narcissistic, with an ability to identify the basest fears and prejudices of the voters and play upon those fears without apology or shame.


Clinton is the penultimate politician and opportunist, parlaying her marriage to an infamous albeit popular president into a lifetime of employment in the public sector. 


While this will be a momentous decision, effecting the course of the United States for the foreseeable future, it masks the importance of whom we elect to serve in Congress.


There is very little chance that the GOP majority in the House will change in the fall.  Worse, this majority includes a powerful minority of representatives that lean extremely right.  This minority will continue to hold this chamber hostage, blocking every compromise that might become law unless more Dems are elected and can join with the moderate GOP reps to work together to govern.  If we continue to allow this half of Congress to be populated by people whose only goal is to eliminate the federal protections in place that keep our air and water clean, and protect the rights of minorities and women, while allowing the continued misguided interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to swamp America with guns and the violence that follows, and failing to properly check employer abuse of workers through non living wages, and reduced benefits, America will continue to see a stalemate in  Washington.  This body has voted time and against income and marriage equality, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and to limit the powers of the EPA and other environmental agencies to reign in those businesses who pollute our planet.  We need to send a message, just as clear as that which will elect the new president, that we expect the House to compromise when necessary to govern America, not merely say NO.


Just as essential, we need to take a hard look at the Senate, currently consisting of 54 GOP, 45 DEM and one Independent.  (No, not Bernie since he changed parties to run as the Democratic nominee).  Thirty four seats are to be determined in November, of which 24 are held by Republicans, a result of the 2010 midterm backlash against Obama's 2008 election.  Of these 34, depending on whose analysis you read, 20 of the seats are "secure", meaning little chance of a change of party.  This leaves 14 seats that might see a switch in party and twelve of those are currently held by the GOP.  Simple math says that a net gain of  4 seats (assuming the independent leans democratic as is usual) will result in a 50-50 split, and if Clinton wins, a Democratic controlled Senate since the
vice-president breaks ties.  A net gain of 5 seats means in won't matter who wins the White House, the Senate will lean left. 


Since many political pundits consider 5 seats a toss up (4 currently GOP), and two of the GOP  seats leaning left, a return to a Dem controlled Senate is not only possible but critical, especially if we remember that Trump is not accustomed to losing.  While I would expect that Clinton might have a chance to work with a GOP controlled Congress, especially if she wins by double digit percentage points, Trump's decisions as to which crazy proposals which emanate from a GOP dominated Congress he agrees to, makes me wince, not to mention his own wacky ideas in regards to Mexicans and Muslims which the right leaning immigration phobic members of the House will love to enact.


Trump vs Clinton.  Who would have thunk it.  Just remember, when you enter the voting booth in November, you are also voting for the body that is charged with enacting our laws, in addition to our next president.  Do your research so that the eventual winner will have the best people to work with, those most interested in governing America, and representing all Americans.     

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Discrimination in a Christian Nation

One might expect the phase "discrimination in a Christian nation" to be an oxymoron, yet it seems increasingly clear by the recent spate of "religious freedom" legislation that has been signed in states such as Georgia and North Carolina, that discrimination is alive and well in America.  What is ironic is that those in support of such blatantly discriminatory laws, believe they are doing God's work, protecting children from gay, lesbian and transgender perverts, as is their perspective.  Even more ironic, is that many of these same people watch in horror at the news of the atrocities committed in the name of god by Islamic fundamentalists, not seeing how much like them they are in their intolerance for others.


It might be wise for those who support such seemingly anti-freedom (anti-American) laws to review the work of Utah, yes Utah, in this area.  While the Utah law is not perfect, is was created with the cooperation of the LGBT community, including one openly gay state representative.  Cooperation, as opposed to last minute legislative meetings with only one political party represented.  A law that addressed the concerns of both sides, found common ground, and was supported by both sides, even though no one was completely happy.  Adult compromise concerning a very difficult issue.


I often say that mankind is evolving in a positive direction, intellectually, socially and spiritually.  I also frequently lament the backlash that can occur following a step forward, usually with the comment that sometimes progress is two steps forward, one step back.  That being said, it should not be surprising that with marriage equality the law of the land, there would be some people who are not ready for such change, and would therefore respond by circling their religious wagons to establish some kind of buffer between themselves and these changes. 


Hence, religious freedom laws that allow for the righteous to refuse service to those with different sexual orientation or gender identification.  Not straight, sorry, no wedding cake for you.  A different gender identification, no job for you.  The only thing missing would be straight and gay public water fountains; after all, perhaps the gay disease can be transmitted orally, through saliva!  (I am sure I read that on the internet, so it must be true).


I no longer affiliate with any religion but I would like to think that the priest that says mass at my mother's church would speak out against this kind of intolerance.  I know that if he didn't, my mother would not be happy.  Unfortunately, I am sure that there are people with religious influence that do not share that sense of intolerance.  They are the first to scream discrimination when they cannot have a manger scene on public property, but yell the loudest to restrict those with different viewpoints from those same facilities.  Even worse, they fail to see the inherent evil in teaming up with local businesses to justify who can be served and who cannot, who can be hired or fired, based on their narrow perspective.   I guess the lesson of World War 2 when so many minorities were persecuted, is lost on them; they forget that intolerance has no boundary, and no consistency, and today's purveyors of discrimination might well be tomorrow's victims.


If I may be so bold, the stories I have read about Jesus recount a man who spent time with the outcasts of his era.  If we are to believe that he was The Christ, son of God, conceived immaculately, sent to earth to provide an example of how to live, and who died for our imperfections so that we might live eternally, the founder and reason for all that is labeled Christian, then perhaps we should act us such. 


Some say there is too much religious influence these days, too many people who so passionately believe the tenants and dogma of their particular religion, that they are blind to the possibility that other sets of beliefs may be just as viable.  But perhaps, in fact, there is not enough religion, where religion is defined by the spirit of its founder, as opposed to the rules created by men to control the believers. 


To me, there is no room for discrimination in a Christian nation, therefore there is no room for discrimination in America.  One might even go so far as to say that anyone who supports such laws is not only not Christian, but not American as well. 


       

Monday, April 11, 2016

Death and Taxes

Last day of my 6 days off in a row from work.  Didn't miss work in the least.  Did some reading, checked off a bunch of items from my To-do list, finished our taxes and submitted (this will be the third) posts to my blog.  If this is how retirement will be, plus some travel I hope, it cannot come too soon.


I actually finished our federal taxes, and received our yearly refund last month.  First year without my son as a dependent but still receiving the education credit for my daughter's college enrollment.  Unfortunately, we owe some state and local taxes this year due to my wife's out of state job, hence the delay is finishing those forms. 


It seems strange to me how much anger is directed to the various local, state and federal agencies by most people when it comes to paying taxes.  I imagine is it a manifestation of the "me first " attitude that permeates our society.  We agonize over local taxes, usually school taxes, even directing our anger at the teachers who are often perceived as "those who can't, teach" people who get every summer off in addition to a bunch of holidays.  As if they are merely overpaid babysitters.  Yet, when most people are looking to raise a family, they generally move to an area with good schools.  They know the difference a good education can make for their children, yet still grouse over school taxes as if there is not a correlation between cost and results.  What is even more frustrating is that some of those same people will yell and scream at their local sports team for not spending enough money to attract the best athletes!  I guess it is easy to spend other people's money. 


As for state spending, again, education is such a huge percentage of where our tax money is spent, yet we prefer to focus on the politicians (an easy and deserved target) as if their salaries represent that much of our taxes.  Some people forget that when the state does not do its part in funding education, the burden passes back to the local school districts, hence an increase in local taxes.  And, when it is time to send your child to college, those states that do not adequately fund their state universities mean that the parents must borrow even more money for college, or worse, pass the debt burden on to their children resulting in most college graduates facing at least $25,000 ($300 a month for 10 years) in education debt on day one. 


As for federal taxes, well, education is not as big a percentage, although if you lump it in with other "social" programs, welfare, social security, health care etc, it is a large number.  But still, not anywhere near the $600 billion a year, we allocate to defense.  The next time you complain about ISIS and terrorism, and fear, and clamor for more bombs, and more guns, and "boots on the ground" it may be wise to remember that it is those costs that make your tax burden so high, if you believe it so.  It is easy to generate applause when you promise to cut taxes, but much harder to make the math work when you want to build a wall, or bomb our enemies back to the stone age, or continue to provide businesses with tax breaks to create jobs, or make sure our elderly can choose to live where they want and eat healthy food, while managing their bills on a fixed income. 


Paying taxes can certainly be distasteful, and it is certainly just as important to question how our money is spent while paying our fair share.  But let's not pretend that we can be the policemen of the world, maintain our roads and bridges, provide a safety net for those who deserve it, and encourage the business community to provide jobs, and not pay federal taxes. 


Just as certain, as they say, is Death.  Sure, we can buy the latest in home exercise equipment, take the most recent supplement that defies aging, eat right, reduce stress, etc, but eventually death will make a visit. 


This month's National Geographic has an interesting perspective on death, a viewpoint totally at odds with the predominant societal view.  In a remote corner of Indonesia there is a culture in which the corpses of the dead remain a part of the family long after life has left the body.  The Torajan people consider death as a process, not a moment.  A process that includes (after mummification) time with the body before burial, and even, often many years later, time with the unearthed body.  Funerals, which can be months after death, are celebrations much bigger and festive that even weddings.  And, if you are ready to dismiss this as a tradition for backwards, or isolated tribes, the Torajan are a modern people with cell phones and computers.  Their funerals are as much family reunions and community events as ceremonies for the departed as, family members who have left the islands where they were born, travel thousands of miles to be a part of the event. 


In some ways, this kind of practice, where the person is still a part of the family even after dying, is played out in western hospitals where people who are "brain dead" are kept alive through artificial means for days, weeks, even months after brain activity has ceased,.  It is not uncommon in these most advanced of hospitals for the care givers and the family of the comatose to greet those in coma, talk to them as they care for their bodies' needs, just as the Torajan still talk to, bring food for, dress, and interact with their loved ones once dead.  It makes me wonder if this kind of advanced science, where the body can be kept alive even after the person has gone, has brought us full circle to a time when death was an everyday part of life, and that recognition of the dead was as important as acknowledging the living. 


When the Torajan are questioned about the origins of their death practices and traditions, it is not easily discovered.  Much of their lore was of an oral nature until the 20th century.  But perhaps, as the author suggests, the better question is how our current death practices came to be.  It wasn't that long ago that wakes were held in the parlor of the home of the deceased; my house, built at the end of the 19th century, had two front doors, the second one being wider than the first to accommodate a standard size coffin.  Yet, just a few generation later, the thought of having a dead person in one's home is repugnant to most of us, and so often closed caskets are preferred so we don't have to see how the recently departed has degraded, how time has taken its toll. 


It is all well and good to remember those you love as strong, vibrant people.  I much prefer to remember my father as he was when I accompanied him on his route, the wind in his hair, the smell of freshly oiled knives all around us, the new day's sun rising in the distance as we began the day's deliveries.  He was strong, alive, my example of what it was to be a man.  But just as critically, although perhaps not as pleasant, is the sight of him as he lay prone on a slightly too small bed in the hospice that last week.  He was slowing leaving us, his essence easing from earth to the next plane.  Yet, he will always be with us, in myself, my brothers, my son, my nephews and nieces, and their children and their children's children.  Perhaps, like the Torajan, we would be more comfortable with death, less afraid of its inevitability, if we treated death as just another phase of life, part and parcel to being born. living and experiencing, and aging. 


And, if it is immortality we really seek, well we have that to, in our DNA, each of us the result of all our ancestors combined, each or us an ancestor and part of all those who will follow.






 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Disaster

The Spring edition of Lapham's Quarterly arrived a few weeks ago.  I have read about a third of it to date.   The first section (of three) is called Premonition, and includes essays from people who have written about the possibility of impending disaster, some natural, some man made.  One which recounts the days and hours leading up to the Challenger shuttle disaster was of particular interest in that a number of scientists from the company which manufactured the O rings that failed were aware of the potential problem which cold temperatures might produce, tried valiantly to convince their managers and NASA administrators to cancel the mission, and were ultimately surprised, not by the explosion but by their lack of success to preempt it.  (I have since heard an NPR segment which detailed the guilt felt by these very same engineers, who blame themselves for not forcing those decision makers to listen, and the anger some still feel on being ignored).


Similarly, the seemingly American hobby of discounting certain science, specifically science that contradicts religion (evolution deniers), and science that threatens certain industries (climate change deniers), is recalled both in the above example where NASA pride trumped caution, and in the opening article which details the ongoing research being conducted in the Greenland ice sheet which undoubtedly demonstrates the potential for disaster that will result in rising sea levels from ice melt.


But these strains of thought are not new to me. 


What is most interesting to date, were the essays taken from the writings of George Marsh and Sigmund Freud.


In 1864 (yes, during the Civil War), Marsh published Man and Nature, one of the earliest texts which argued that human activity could have significant and lasting effect on the environment.  The essay in Lapham's, touches on the destruction of the forests to harvest its wood for houses.  Marsh calls it a Want of Foresight, in that he observes how temperatures in cities are a few degrees warmer that in the surrounding countryside, how removing the trees exposes the ground to faster flow of water, which can remove the ground soil, or what he calls the vegetable mold, making it harder to grow food.  He talks about how these man induced changes, effect the ebb and flow of rivers and streams, the existence of tidal pools and marshes, all changes which effect the flora and fauna of the area.  He observes without the bias of monetary gain or loss, or religious edict.  Strangely, and I say this in light of the occupations and concerns of most of today's politicians, Marsh was an elected United States Congressman for the state of Vermont, and a lifelong conservationist who used his position and knowledge to further the cause of environmental awareness at a time when the Industrial Revolution was first changing America.  Talk about swimming against the stream!!


But the most illuminating essay was from Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents.  My familiarity with Freud was mostly focused on his Interpretation of Dreams, a topic which I investigated most seriously (and enjoyably) as a young adult, the ability to experience lucid dreaming being one of my earliest pursuits.  And, of course, as a my interest in Psychology blossomed, Freud's creation of psychoanalysis was studied and debated.  But whether I avoided his darker theories on man, or purposefully ignored them, I was not as aware of his contributions in this area.


In this edition of Lapham's is Freud's discussion of the battle between what he calls the instincts of Eros and Death.  Without getting too involved in this theory, he basically boils it all down to our all encompassing instinct of aggression, and the "civilized" concepts we use to counter that instinct to create an orderly less violent society.  What is fascinating is that he turns the basis of Christianity, original sin and the need to be saved through Jesus Christ, on its head by acknowledging that we are in fact, flawed (original sin being our aggressive and destructive nature), and proof is in the need to be saved and to adhere to the basic message of that savior, love one another.  In other words, we need to be told to be good, to have institutions that teach goodness, even to have the carrot of ultimate happiness, eternity with the creator, in order to counter our natural aggressiveness, our natural destructiveness.  Wow, talk about negative!! 


Oddly, Freud died in 1939, before the atrocities of World War 2 occurred.  I would imagine he would have silently nodded his head with the knowledge that the attempted genocide of the Jews by the Nazis, the incessant bombing of England, the firebombing of Germany and the ultimate use of atomic weapons in Japan, would have proven him right, especially in light of the fact that all of these barbarous acts were committed by people who thought such acts were the beginning of a better man,  or blessed by a righteous God, or the only way to combat those that were evil.


Want of Foresight seems even more at work now than ever.  We continue to make decisions based on short term outcomes, whether those decisions be in the business or political world, or on the battlefield or in the election booth.  And we abhor the violence of others while clamoring for our own righteous version of violence against our enemies. 


Still, there are signs that we might choose to act to prevent disaster, and that we might choose to reject aggression in favor of love.  Hopefully, the tipping point will come before we have gone too far down the wrong path.


         
   

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Working Together

Like many other sports fans, I watched the NCAA Men's basketball final a few nights ago.  Of course, in addition to being a fan of March Madness, I was eager to see if Villanova, a team from a suburb west of Philadelphia (I live in a northern suburb of the same city), could knock off another number 1 seed and perennial college basketball powerhouse North Carolina.  It had been an impressive run to the final game for Villanova, who rolled over 4 of the five teams it had played, including a record setting 44 point victory in the Final Four semifinal, while also beating the overall number 1 ranked team in the tournament, Kansas, in a thriller last weekend.


My feeling before the game was that North Carolina had the better players, but that Villanova was the better team.  As it turned out, this was true.  While there are a few players on the North Carolina team who will eventually play in the NBA, there are most likely no players on the Villanova team destined for the pro league.  Yet, Villanova won the game in story book fashion on a 3-point basket as time expired.  Their swarming defense in which all five players on the court worked as one, kept North Carolina from playing their game, and from showcasing their better athletes.


As is so often the case in sports, the team with the best players sometimes wins the championship in a given year, but more often loses out to the team which is playing the best.  (As the NHL playoffs approach, let this be a warning to the Washington Capitals, arguably the team with the best players in the National Hockey League).  Of course, a team needs excellent players to succeed.  But the ability for those players to meld into an effective unit and create a team greater than its parts can lead to success even when the individual players are less talented.  A good coach or a good scheme can create the framework, but in the end, the players themselves must "buy in" to a coach, or to the concept that they can win by playing as a team even when the other team has superior players.  ,


Which brings us to politics, and governing.  As any one knows who has read my posts, I am not a fan of the current political bipartisanship, and particularly not a fan of the current political philosophy of the GOP.  While both parties have lost sight of the goal, to govern so as to improve the daily life of the majority of Americans, the Republican party seems to have taken spitefulness to a new level, most recently as reflected in their refusal to hold hearings and vote on the president's nominee for the Supreme Court. 


As I mentioned in a previous post, this election cycle pits an establishment candidate against a "change" candidate in each party.  Without overstating the obvious, when the actual presidential candidates are chosen at the respective nomination conventions this summer, it will be the "team" that pulls together its players which will win the White House.  It won't matter for the Democrats if it is understood that Hillary Clinton is the better presidential candidate, if those who support Bernie Sanders don't work together to elect her.  And, even more critically, it will result in a landslide DEM victory, if the those behind Donald Trump don't work together with the candidate that emerges from what will surely be a brokered nomination process.  Teamwork that emphasizes the stark differences between the overall party platforms, regardless of who represents that party, will win the day, just as teamwork enabled Villanova to win on Monday night.


All this being said, one might say, DUH, Joe, all you say is obvious.  Yet is it so obvious that cooperation is the best process for success?  Especially when a component of cooperation, compromise, is such an evil word in today's politics?  Whether one uses the example of immigration reform which was agreed to by the president and the GOP leadership then scuttled by the extreme right wing members of the House, or the recent example in Pennsylvania when newly elected Governor Wolf had a budget agreement in place with the GOP leadership of that state only to have it rejected by a small but vocal minority of GOP reps and senators, it seems that the "my way or the high way" mentality has become a rallying cry for those who have decided that the opinions of the electorate are only to be honored when those opinions have put them in office, not someone of a different viewpoint or political party. 


Make America Great Again is a wonderful slogan, not withstanding the fact that when pressed for an answer most Americans would rank the United States as the best country in the world, and not forgetting when President Obama was taken to task by radio and TV pundits for answering a question about America's "excellence" by saying that most people in every country think their country a great place.  But if we agree that America was at her greatest in defeating Hitler, and in the few decades after WW2 in our efforts to rebuild Europe, create a thriving middle class, and truly making those words, "all men are created equal" be more than a platitude, we might want to remember that cooperation was at the root of that success.  Opportunity was abundant, whether through government programs like the GI bill that enabled millions of veterans to advance their education without debt, or the rise of small businesses which were community based, and which assumed fair pricing so all in that community could afford the services and products offered.  It was a time of doctors making house calls, athletes having an off season job, and entertainers, politicians, and business owners living a good lifestyle without the trappings of obscene wealth. 


If it is true that we will be judged by our treatment of the least among us, then wall building, ID cards to prove citizenship, institutionalized racism in our justice and penal systems, marriage discrimination, and ever increasing income inequality will not only impede our goal to make America great, they will prove just the opposite.  Cooperation is inclusive; remember that when you next watch a presidential debate, or enter a voting booth,


    


The American Dream was never abou 


     



Monday, March 21, 2016

Freedom, Cigarettes and Abortion

You may have seen an anti-smoking commercial recently, as I did, which portrayed an extremely saddened mother who had smoked during her pregnancy, and whose child was born premature with various health issues.  While it is possible that some of the child's maladies could be blamed on other sources, it was clear in the commercial that the mother believed that her smoking while pregnant caused much of the damage, and it has certainly been proven by science that smoking is ill-advised for pregnant women.


The commercial spurred a number of thoughts in my mind.


First, it was clear that the baby was a victim of its mother's poor choices, and while smoking while pregnant is not against the law, many (including the mother) might blame her in part for the baby's poor start in life.  I would expect that most people would certainly not blame the baby for having poor health as a result of its mother's decision to smoke.  Yet I also imagined that many of those who would look upon the child with pity, are the same people who prefer to blame some children for their parents' crimes, when it comes to the illegal immigration issue.  Proposed laws such as the DREAM Act, that would provide a path to citizenship for children whose only crime was to be brought to America illegally, have failed in Congress due to the efforts of those in the GOP who prefer to lump all illegal immigrants into one category; criminals.  Punishing children for the sins of the parents is not reflective of the American spirit of compassion and caring, and certainly not a trait of a Christian country. 


One wonders if, as some would like, a fetus were to be granted the rights of an individual, and therefore protected against abortion by the same laws which make murder illegal, would mothers who choose to smoke also be subject to prosecution for cruelty to their unborn children?  Would they be put in jail?  Lose their rights to the child, once born?  Is the father subject to conspiracy charges since he likely knew the mother to be was smoking?  How about the smoker's mother, or siblings, doctor,  friends or co-workers, all who knew the smoker was torturing her unborn baby?


And, since a woman might be pregnant yet not be "showing" for a while, or not even know it for 6,  perhaps 8 weeks if her cycle is not normally regular, perhaps all women who smoke of child bearing years should be "watched", just in case they are harming a potential child.  Perhaps be marked, maybe a "P" for potentially pregnant ala The Scarlet Letter?  And, if we are going to hold mothers accountable for potential damage to a fetus, certainly anything done to a pregnant mother that is detrimental to her (and the baby's health), say by a business that dumps refuse into a local river, or excess pollution into the air, must also result in action against that business.  I would imagine that, once laws protecting the rights of a fetus were enacted, then the EPA would have to be infused with  new money and power to protect the health and well being of the fetus against industries that spew pollution into our environment.  What strange bedfellows that would make, the anti-abortion movement and the environmental movement joining forces to protect the right of the fetus!


From there, one could imagine that drinking and drug use would be next on the list of activities not appropriate for women of child bearing age.  Perhaps even over exercising.  Marathon running.  How about dieting? 


Men controlling what women could and couldn't do, just like the olden, golden days.  It would certainly bridge the gap between our contempt for how women are treated in the Muslim religion, subject to the control of men who are only protecting them (and our future children) from harm. 


I know, you are thinking that I exaggerate.  Certainly, no one wants to take away the freedom of women to make their own choices.  It is only in the case of life and death. But isn't that like giving carte blanche to those that engage in activities that result in damaged babies, whether that activity is personal (the mother) or industrial (a polluting business)?  If aborting a fetus is immoral, how close on the scale of immorality is destroying a local environment?  Or moving a business off shore which results in the unemployment of hundreds of families, which results in less money for food, shelter and education?  


Freedom, real freedom, is not an easy thing to have and maintain.  It means more than just parading with a flag that says don't tread on me.  More than wearing a pretty pin on one's lapel.  Freedom is a huge responsibility, because it includes, not exempts us from considering how exercising our freedom effects others.  Driving through red lights, playing one's music at high decibels late into the night, bombing the citizens of another country to kill a terrorist, is not excusable because it expresses an individual or national freedom.  It is merely a selfish act by someone or group of people who are less free than self-centered.


Freedom, the rights of the individual, the power of the government to curtail some rights in the name of security or protection, all BIG concepts that need serious discussion.  Please remember that when you hear simplistic answers offered by radio pundits and politicians.  And, especially remember it when the founders are invoked because they struggled with these same concepts as well, did not always agree, compromised to move the needle forward, but still had reservations even when creating those wonderful documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.






  

Monday, March 14, 2016

Candidates: Establishment VS Change

It has probably been said by someone already, but I felt it worth repeating how interesting and unusual the race for president has become from the standpoint of the candidates being labeled as establishment versus change.


In the Democratic party, the race quickly became a Clinton vs Sanders affair.  What is odd is that Hillary Clinton, a woman, is the establishment candidate.  She is favored by the party chiefs as is clear by her overwhelming lead in "super" delegates, a fact which doubles her lead over Sanders. 


Without getting into a discussion of the origin and purpose of the super delegate in the Democratic party (there is no such thing in the GOP), suffice it to say that it is a concept not foreign to the founders belief that direct election of the president by the people may not be desirable.  At the time, it was thought by some that a regional candidate might overwhelmingly win a minority of the states, and should those states make up a majority percentage of the population, then such a candidate could win the presidency even though a majority of the people in the remainder of the states were to vote against him or her, thus spawning the creation of the electoral college.  Similarly, the super delegate was fashioned with the idea that party officials, elected Democratic candidates and other long term party supporters should have a say in the nominee, in addition to their actual vote.  Sounds a bit undemocratic, on the face of it.  In real terms, it conveys the idea of a safety net, just in case the democratic electorate seems bent on picking a candidate that may be popular but not viable as the presidential nominee. 


In the meantime, Bernie Sanders, an old white male who is a career politician, is the candidate for change.  One might argue that someone who has held elected office in some capacity for over 30 years might not qualify as a change candidate, yet Sanders has done a great job of stating and defending his voting record while maintaining limited ties to the financial industry, probably something more easily done when you are a Senator from Vermont as opposed to being the wife of an ex-president and ex-Senator from New York where some of your constituents are those very same behemoths of the banking and financial world.


As for the GOP, their establishment candidate appears to be Ted Cruz, a man without a United States birth certificate (take that all you birthers from 2008), while the "change" candidate is a billionaire who has spent his life using his identification with the status quo of power and riches, his white maleness, while at the same time, using his money and influence to bend the rules of our democracy to fit his needs.  Of course he supported some Democratic candidates in the past as claimed by his Republican detractors, his support was all about greenbacks, not party affiliations. 


The real question is, when all the wrangling is over, which party will be able to rally its members to vote for the candidate that has been chosen. 


If Sanders is the nominee, will the Democratic establishment be loyal enough to the message that we need a Democratic President to counter the GOP dominated House, and to successfully nominate and appoint a liberal leaning Supreme Court justice so that the gains of the recent past (marriage equality, health care insurance expansion) are maintained, while attacks on abortion and voting rights are repelled?


If Clinton is the nominee, and with the same big picture goals, can the Democratic party ignite the base to vote for a more centrist, but perhaps more electable candidate, while adjusting the party platform to include some of Sanders more popular ideas?


If Trump is the nominee, will the GOP establishment turn its attacks on Clinton and away from Trump's more obnoxious talking points effectively enough to turn the voters, the young, the female, and the minority, who they need to win the White House.  Additionally, can they sell Trump to their base with just the thought that he will be better than Clinton or Sanders, considering Trump's limited past support of making abortion illegal and turning back the clock on marriage equality?


If Cruz is the nominee, the base may be happier, but Trump's popularity with the voters (he has won most of the primaries where actual voting has taken place, as opposed to caucuses), means that barring a complete turnaround, he will go into the convention with more delegates than Cruz.  A brokered convention, perhaps the only way for Cruz to win, may not sit well with the GOP voters, and certainly, as I mentioned in a previous post, will not sit will with the bully Trump.


Oddly, is seems that the GOP would benefit from the super delegate system that the Dems have, in this case, perhaps demonstrating the need for such a system, as undemocratic as it seems. 


Whatever the outcome, we are certainly in for an interesting 4 months before the conventions in July.


Buckle up!!


   

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Recent Debates

I watched about 45 minutes of a replay of the Republican Presidential Debate a few nights ago, then followed that up with about an hour of the live Democratic Presidential Debate.  Some thoughts.


I know I am biased, but the GOP event was less presidential and more a street rumble.  Penis size talk?  Wow!  I tired hard to suspend my biases, and listened for actual substance and potential policy.  Build a wall, of course, was clearly stated by Trump, and while not agreed to by Rubio and Cruz, they did emphasize their desire to remove all illegals, and heaven forbid, admit to creating a path to citizenship for children brought to America illegally by their parents.  Children paying for the sins of their fathers and mother, what a disgrace, and certainly not very Christian.  And Mexico will pay for it, by the way.  Why, because Trump says so.


Of course, the entire immigration discussion reeks of hypocrisy when one considers that Cruz and Rubio are first generation Americans, both, along with Kasich, pulling at heartstrings with tales of their poor, barely English speaking ancestors who attained work as maids and dishwashers, all the while seeming to blot out the reality that the very immigrants they are so eager to dismiss and blame for America's problems, are mirror images of their own parents and grandparents.  But legal, you say.  True, except that we must remember that the quotas for immigration from Cuba were non-existent due to our hatred for Castro, so one might wonder if there had been real quotas would Cruz and Rubio even be Americans at this point.  And, of course, Cruz was not even born in America, yet is betting on a more progressive interpretation of the Constitution when it comes to eligibility to be president.  Odd, when one considers his no nonsense, literal interpretation of history when it comes to understanding our founders thoughts.


Both Cruz and Trump would eliminate the IRS due to their flat tax plans.  Certainly, streamlining the tax code is an admirable goal, but I have yet to see an economic analysis that doesn't suggest that flat tax plans generally reduce taxes for the rich, while shifting more burden on the middle class.  And, of course, if  less money is collected, then what benefits are they willing to eliminate.  I heard talk of eliminating the Dept of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, but no debate about how much those departments actually spend, where the money that is distributed by the Education Dept would now come from (higher state and local taxes?), and who precisely was going to protect our water and air once the EPA was no longer.  Trust business seemed to be the answer not stated.  After all, no business would possibly resort to cutting waste disposal corners, or air pollution standards in the name of profit!  Kasich, who is generally the adult on the stage, is no better on this account.  All the candidates willingness to sacrifice education and the environment for a balanced budget, when those 2 departments account for a relatively small percentage of the budget, smack of the worst rhetoric when knowledge of the huge sum of money spent on the military is known. 


Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act was also good fodder.  Policy changes that will increase the number of Americans who have health insurance is welcome.  And, perhaps now that the health insurance industry knows that Americans are on to their tricks of capping lifetime benefits, denying insurance for pre-existing conditions, and granting discounts for large "buyers", while hiking premiums for small businesses and people who work for companies who do not provide the benefit, the first steps provided for by the Affordable Care Act can be revisited.  But I find it more likely that any replacement program will rely on private insurers with no incentive to insure the sick, only to limit exposure to expense.  After all, the GOP has resisted the call to provide more Americans access to affordable health care for quite some time.  Even when programs like those that exist in Massachusetts were successful, the GOP backpedaled from taking credit.


In contrast, the debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was boring.  They actually discussed, in detail, some bills that they voted on while serving in the Senate.  At one point, Sanders was asked about comments that he made in conjunction with a bill passed in the mid 1990's.  I thought this fascinating, first because it showed how involved the two were in their jobs that they recalled the legislation, and 2nd that in discussing that particular bill (and a few others) they both made it clear that no bill is perfect, and that sometimes, even when speaking passionately about an aspect of a bill that you oppose as Sanders did that day, you might still vote for it because the good outweighed the bad.  True governing in action, sort of like a mini-civics lesson for those who think that compromise is a dirty word.  When Rubio was questioned about his participation in the Gang of 8, a committed that actually had created a framework for immigration reform, he was attacked for including an aspect that Cruz did not like.  Consequently, that reform framework was rejected by the ideologues in the House and Cruz in the Senate, resulting in no movement on the issue.  Whether it be because of our first black president or just because the GOP were sore losers, working across the aisle was the last thing on their agenda.


I assume that Trump will compromise in a manner as he describes; ask for more than you want and settle for what you want.  It is strange to think that the GOP base, people who point to Obama and derisively call him King, don't see the irony in supporting someone who is clearly running for King.  Or, for that matter, why they don't understand that Washington doesn't work, cannot work, unless both sides are willing to give and take when negotiating, and, since the tea party reps whom they have elected are neither interested in compromising or for that matter governing, they themselves are part of the reason why Washington is dysfunctional. 


What is sad is that the GOP which has a proud history of political accomplishments that have served America well, is looking down the barrel of a no win situation.  Either Trump is the candidate, which means the GOP establishment will have to reverse their recent attacks on him, or a brokered convention nominates a different candidate, most likely Cruz, which means they will have to face a pissed off bully.  Will Trump immediately sue to challenge Cruz's right to run for president (show us your birth certificate!), or just simply tell his followers to stay home.  If he is half the negotiator he claims to be, I imagine his support will come at great cost to the GOP.


Still, even should Clinton or Sanders win, Washington will continue in its present morass of inaction, if compromise continues to be considered a sign of weakness.  While it is true that sometimes no deal is better than a bad deal, no deals at all do not move the needle forward.  This is where we, the electorate, need to slip off our own mantle of noninvolvement, and become informed about the issues, and the big problems that need solutions.  Know how your reps vote in Washington through organizations like MegaVote.  Evaluate based on multiple issues, not just on a single viewpoint.  And, please, whatever you do, vote for the candidate, local, state or national, who expresses compassion for others, for all Americans.  Remember, those who support candidates who seek only to point fingers and isolate a segment of the population for blame, may someday point in your direction.



   


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gender games

Interesting article in the February edition of National Geographic about women in Saudi Arabia.  The article was written by a woman who has had numerous contacts with the women of this country, especially in recent years.


http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/saudi-arabia-women-text


Of course, and despite our decades long relationship with this oil rich country, there is occasional media coverage of the cultural and religious forces that restrict the rights and freedom of women in this country.  A few years ago the shocking news that Saudi women were not allowed to drive made headlines, and this article touches on that issue.  While providing good paying jobs to male immigrants who are specifically imported for this function, the "tradition" limits women's movements, thereby their freedom.  And, while the article portrayed the upper class Saudi women who generally accepted the restriction while also believing that it will be faded out, gradually, in the coming decade, the author did not interview or spend time with Saudi women who can not afford, or whose husbands will not pay, for a driver. 


What this article did bring to light, however, was the incredible progress women have made in this country in the past 10 years, despite the fact that "Saudi Arabia is the most gender segregated nation".  In just 35 years, from 1979 to 2014, the percentage of girls enrolled in primary schools rose from 30 to 99 percent.  In the area of higher education, in 1973, only 15 Saudi women were enrolled per 100 men (in the United States it was 78), but by 1993, the number of Saudi women per 100 men enrolled had risen to 72 (up to 93 in the US), and in 2013 there were over 100 Saudi women per 100 men enrolled (over 135 in the US). 


Also, the presence of women in the work force has changed.  Yes, restrictions abound in that physical walls separating single men from women are the still the norm in all phases of employment, yet the percentage of young Saudi women who are employed is far greater than even the generation preceding them, let alone those of 2 or 3 generations ago.  No longer are women consigned to jobs in the more traditional fields (such as education), but are now finding opportunities in areas such as manufacturing, and even politics.


It is easy to take the high road when it comes to equality for the sexes when we compare ourselves to countries like Saudi Arabia.  Clearly, it is completely male dominated, ruled by both a patriarchal religion and government.  Often, especially on certain right leaning TV and radio shows, the Saudis are portrayed as the worst kind of men in terms of their treatment of women. 


Yet, it is frequently these same men in America who fight against equal pay for equal work legislation, who love depicting welfare queens as abusing our system of assistance to the needy but never exhibit the same fervor against corporate welfare that costs ten times more money to the United States taxpayer.  It is this same gender bias, albeit a lesser degree, that has limited access to the upper echelons of American business and politics.  And, when a women does attain those rarified positions, she is often depicted as an ice queen or royal bitch when she performs the job as a man, or genetically unable to handle the pressures of such responsibilities when she fails, even though men fail at the highest levels of business and politics all the time without the toughness of their gender being maligned or questioned.


One might even say the battles over the Affordable Care Act, contraception as paid for by one's employer, Planned Parenthood funding, etc, are all gender bias based.  Would men be so resistant to health coverage for all people if they had to bear children, advise fellow men to place an aspirin between their legs to avoid pregnancy, or wish to restrict women's health services (including abortion) in law after law enacted to "protect women's health" if it was their health they were allegedly protecting?  (Don't see a lot of laws restricting access to Viagra, prostate exams, penile implants or male pattern baldness cures, do you?)


Compared to Saudi Arabia, we seem advanced, yet how about compared to Germany, England, Norway, or most other "western" countries.  How many of those countries have never had a women president?  How many allow employers to tell their women employees what forms of contraception they can take? 


I wrote a story once in which overnight, many people awoke with a different skin color or different gender.  Suddenly, laws and policies which were now controlled by those who had been the most negatively effected, began to change.  People were forced into the shoes of others, and did not like the fit.  It is easy to imagine the Saudi men lobbying to alter the interpretations of the Quran, if they suddenly became female, just as we might see some new understandings of the Bible should certain religious leaders find themselves in female form.


Like race, perhaps we should embrace the differences that exist between male and female without the added calculations concerning which is superior or inferior.  We are different, thank you very much!  Perhaps not exactly equal in all our traits but when brought together, we make something better than the sum of our parts.  Which means that by limiting the opportunities of one half of the union, we limit the strength and future accomplishments of the whole. 


Which also means we have underestimated and misunderstood the real truths of our holy books, if we assume they were inspired by the Creator, because I am sure She would expect us to discard our gender biases to truly honor and glorify the life and lives we have been granted.
  


  



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Truth; whole, half or none at all

Today I finished reading the latest Lapham's Quarterly edition, Spies.  Coincidentally, I watched a movie called The Fifth Estate last night. 


Spies was interesting in its recounting of how espionage can be said to predate the birth of Christ.  Any number of essays concerning the use of spies during a variety of Chinese Dynasties, as well as the days of the Greek city states, and the Roman Empire are included.  Even during the so called Dark Ages, methods to discern one's enemy's thoughts and actions, especially as related to war and religion, are documented.  It seems that gaining the upper hand on one's rivals, personal, business and national, is as old as organized communities and governments. 


Strangely, and despite the seeming necessity of employing such people, spies are not viewed as especially laudable people.  One long dead ruler discounted the use of spies deducing that the most effective of infiltrators is one who resembles in looks and thought those he is asked to betray, and that someone willing to betray one's own people is just as likely to betray those paying him to do so, if the money is better or the opportunity more advantageous.  There is also an interesting essay which expresses the opinion of some that betraying one's country is far less an indicator of integrity as betraying one's friends or family, the idea being that personal loyalty is more valuable than loyalty to country and king.


The Fifth Estate was about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a man regarded as both defender of truth, and traitor.  The movie depicted the beginnings of WikiLeaks, its minor accomplishments in bringing to light human rights abuses, bribery and corruption in various governments, war crimes committed by those purportedly on the "right" side of the conflict, and any number of secrets, whose existence is justified by those in power as a way to protect national interests and citizens' safety.  It ends with the cataclysmic release of the United States war logs from Afghanistan, and the disclosure of 250,000 diplomatic cables, names and dates not redacted as had been done when released by the world's biggest newspapers.  It also details the falling out between Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who eventually disables the launch platform for WikiLeaks, temporarily delaying the release of those cables.  Assange considers Berg a traitor to the cause; a traitor to the traitor in some eyes.   


I found it interesting to realize that journalism can be described as a form of espionage, except that those who bring the secrets of governments into the light frequently do so out of love for their country, as opposed to discovering secrets of one's enemies to help destroy them.  In the movie, Assange is portrayed as a seeker of truth, and a harbinger of an information war between those who keep secrets and those of us who are kept in the dark but also as an egomaniac who put his concept of truth, and his opinion of what should be public knowledge above the real life consequences for those whom his disclosures would injure, even when those people are merely cogs in the machine.


It is an interesting debate; how far should one go when revealing secrets.  Is the cost of truth beyond calculation, or is there a line that even whistle blowers should not cross?  And, when we decide to draw that line anywhere short of the truth, what does that say to those who have abused the public trust and engaged in activities, such as illegal interventions in other governments, assassinations without trial of those we call our enemies, and war time atrocities that are justified as collateral damage.  When is justice served, or is justice denied the price we pay for our willingness to feel safe. 


How ironic is it that there is such a ground swell of dissatisfaction with our political process, hence the popularity of Trump on the right and Sanders on the left, yet when it comes to allowing those we elect to engage in activities conveniently labeled as "counter terrorism", we generally turn a blind eye.   "If you have nothing to hide, then NSA tapping of your phone and emails is OK", we say to ourselves.  "Only criminals should fear the forced opening of that I-phone by the FBI".  We rail against government intervention in our lives, yet sleepily parrot the justifications as used by those very same people who routinely violate our privacy in the name of national security.


At last count, I believe the House has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 60 times, not to mention all the hearings and meetings that have been held at taxpayer expense to justify their obsession with this law.  It has been the rallying cry for the GOP ever since its passage in 2010; the ultimate in government intrusion into our lives.  Too bad that not even 1/100 of interest and outrage has been expressed, on either side of the aisle, in analyzing and critiquing the Patriot Act which has legalized directly as well as tacitly a myriad of violations of the American citizenry. 


Based on the rhetoric I have heard so far, I envision even more violations in the name of protecting our borders, and keeping out our enemies, most emanating from the GOP presidential candidates.   Let's hope we are better able to distinguish the whole truth from 2% and skim, especially if we are going to continue to allow those we elect to trade our privacy for our safety.