Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Man vs Woman

I recently saw a short article related to remarks made by President Obama concerning the closeness of the presidential race (according to the latest polls), and the possibility that sexism is at work.  His point was that while Hillary Clinton has been involved in the difficult decisions of the recent past, whether via her votes in the Senate or as Secretary of State, Donald Trump has no experience in world politics, and seems unconcerned with his lack of knowledge of the intricacies of recent global events, generally falling back on his all encompassing phrase, "trust me, I know more about (fill in the blank) than the experts".

In some ways, Obama's comments support those made about him when he first ran for president in 2008.  While there is clearly no warm up position for being President of the United States, I believe that Obama is admitting both his struggle to learn while on the job, and the importance of having some experience in this incredibly challenging job.  I would imagine that a truthful account of the Obama Presidency, once he publishes it, will include multiple accounts of how he wished he had had more experience in dealing with his foes, both domestic and international, and hopefully, how he learned from his missteps.

Of course, Trump spent much time and energy questioning Obama's nationality and religious affiliation, while, despite their sometime rancorous nomination battle in 2008, Obama and Clinton have worked well together in the last 8 years.  The fact that Obama would support someone who he has worked with, and who respects his leadership, over someone who questions his very patriotism, not to mention rights as an American, should come as no surprise.  The question is, how much sexism still exists in America, and is it at work at some level in this election.

Whether sexism still exists in America, seems without a doubt.  The battle over equal pay for equal work, or precisely the fact that there should even be a battle, is a good start.  The fact that women occupy 20% of the seats in Congress yet comprise over 50% of the population, that a similar percentage exists for women who are CEO's, and that women who risk their lives while serving their country yet are sexually harassed at a shameful rate, all point to the premise that women are seen less as individuals, more as female, where female indicates traits not as attractive as those associated with men.

Even our language is full of prejudice.  Synonyms for female are words like dainty, tender, gentle, soft, docile, submissive.  Certainly not words that promote confidence in a world portrayed as full of evil and terrorism.  Conversely, synonyms for male are tough, virile, robust, potent, vigorous, heroic. When we have a baseline which leans so heavily in favor of male over female candidates, it is easy to see how questioning the health of the woman finds a ready audience, just as linking irrational responses to a women's monthly cycle can find nodding heads among some of the electorate.  The fact that Clinton has probably passed through menopause, and that Trump routinely demonstrates a wide range of emotional reactions when challenged or questioned, doesn't seem to eliminate the unconscious belief that men are logical and stoic, women emotional and reactionary.  Even more ironic, Clinton is sometimes criticized for her lack of emotion; she is called cold when she acts as a man, irrational when she responds with emotion.

Clinton has a long history of public service, has been in the public eye for much of her adult life. Unlike most people, the details of her life have been fodder for public discourse, from her days as the wife of Governor Bill Clinton, through her times as a lawyer, her struggles with Bill's infidelity, her work as First Lady, her time as a US Senator for New York, her work as Secretary of State and now her run for the president. Obviously, there have been mistakes and errors in judgement, all revealed before our eyes.

Trump, on the other hand, while also being in the public eye, has controlled much of that exposure as is the option for someone in the private sector.  We know he was divorced twice, yet do we remember those divorces, know the details of the break-ups?  We know his businesses have declared bankruptcy numerous times, which means that many of his vendors, small businesses as well as large, were never paid for services rendered, but do we know just how many companies his failed ventures hurt?  Both are wealthy, yet Clinton has to apologize for her wealth, goes our of her way to pay the highest tax rate possible, while Trump brags that he is a billionaire, and that he pays as little taxes as possible although we don't know how much that is as he has refused to make his returns public.  Is this double standard merely due to one being a public figure, one a private one, or is there a bit of sexism involved that allows a man to bend or break the rules while requiring the women to follow the law to the letter?

Clearly, if the histories of the two were compared, most objective observers might conclude that Clinton was the least tainted.  (Although not perfectly unbiased, the Wikipedia entry on each has some interesting facts).  I am the first to admit, no desire, that politicians maintain a cleaner record than business people, even though there is much patronage in both professions.  Are we giving Trump a pass because, as he has readily admitted, he donated to both parties knowing they would answer when he called in a favor, while ridiculing Clinton for her associations with special interests, because we expect more from our public servants, because we turn a blind eye to the realities of Big Money in politics, or because we expect men to play the game but want our women to remain above the fray?

I have recently evolved to an electoral litmus test that says, all else being equal, vote for the woman.
I believe we need less testosterone in politics, less rough men who espouse tough love for those living in poverty while holding thousand dollar a plate dinners to fund their next election.  Less bravado which sends young people to foreign lands for reasons never fully explained.  Less concern about being seen as virile, and more concern for those the most vulnerable.

I don't envy Hillary Clinton, or anyone who is trying to be the first at something as the asterisk goes both ways, with some postulating that the first was chosen because of the trait that made them different, not because of their qualifications.  The good news is that with every first, the populace becomes that much less sensitized to noticing one's race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  Will we soon see a black, gay, atheist woman in the White House?  Perhaps not, but I believe that more women at the helm of American businesses, and our democracy, will go a long way to making America even greater than it is today.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Another 9/11 Anniversary

Some interesting angles as related to the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Saw more than a few items about "the children of 9/11" which refers to those young people under aged 15.  For those of us in our 30's or older, the events of 9/11 will remain one of those times when you can recall exactly where you were and what you did that day.  But for children under 20, some of whom will be able to vote in a presidential election for the first time in November, 9/11 is merely history, no different than any other day of historical significance.

Also, probably not directly connected, but still in the news, there has been a new outbreak of protest during the playing of the national anthem.  In this newest iteration, started by some professional sports athletes, individuals are kneeling rather than standing during the anthem, citing their concern for the less than equal treatment of African Americans, especially in the judicial and penal systems, but in other areas as well.

And finally, this month's Smithsonian is an incredibly powerful review of the African American experience throughout history as told by a list of black contributors that spans all walks of life. It commemorates the grand opening of the newest Smithsonian Building opening this month.  For those who have been heard to claim that black people were better off during slavery in that they had secure shelter and food, it should be a must read, and hopefully a slap in the face of such nonsense.

So, how to connect these thoughts.

I was at work on 9/11/01 when the music on our radio station was interrupted with news of a plane flying into the one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.  Quickly, thereafter, the phone on my desk rang, bearing the voice of my wife who had been watching coverage of the smoke billowing out of Tower One when behind the announcer a 2nd plane barreled into Tower 2.   The rest of the day was consumed with coverage of the eventual collapse of the twin towers, news of a third plane striking the Pentagon, additional news of a plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania which was later tied to the attacks, and all the stories and commentary that predominated the airwaves.  It was a terrible day, but at least for a little while, an event that brought Americans together as one nation, bruised but not defeated, able to put aside our differences as we struggled to make sense of this apparently unprovoked act.

Since then, unfortunately, we have lost our sense of unity.  The temporary economic setbacks of 9/11 were replaced by an artificial boom in housing, which, along with other factors, led to the economic collapse of 2008.  For those born to middle and lower economic class parents in the first ten years of this new century, the stress of an uncertain job market may have resulted in a change of address in addition to a change in employment.  There are some who say that this group of children has been exposed to as much stress as those born in the early 1930's or in the first few years of the Cold War. Perhaps, then, a starting point for teaching them about 9/11, is to admit that this horrific event did not occur in a vacuum, but was the result of many other events which resulted from decisions made by various American politicians (and those who voted for them).

When we use demonization of a group to justify prejudiced and hateful behavior, it is only a matter of time before those experiencing that isolation and hatred, strike back.  Is there a lesson for those who will vote in November for the first time, a lesson about choosing candidates that promote cooperation rather than confrontation?  Who prefer trading with our global partners rather than using our military to seize their assets?

It is not without proof to suggest that the second World War was caused by the insistence of retribution from the losers, while the economic boom of post World War 2 was fueled by our willingness to forgive and rebuild the nations that were defeated.  What future tragedy do we inspire by the inflammatory remarks hailed by supporters of Donald Trump?  What future disasters might we avoid by electing public servants who respect all lives, not just those with similar skin color, religious upbringing or ethnicity?

For some Americans, it seems just fine to call our current president a hater of our country, but less patriotic to voice one's opinion of race relations by kneeling rather than standing before a symbol.  I do not know why certain athletes choose to display their dissatisfaction with America while being paid more money in a year than most of us earn in our lifetimes, but I also do not know if those same athletes spend time in poor black communities or donate large sums of their earnings to groups which provide help and support for those less fortunate.  Sadly, some of those calling for these athletes to move to another country if they don't like it here, do not bother to find out who may be a hypocrite and who may be righteous, yet have no qualms about spreading hateful language about Americans or American policy with which they disagree.

Freedom of speech is an incredibly powerful right but one which entails an incredible responsibility.
Sometimes it seems that those who complain the loudest are the least tolerant of viewpoints that differ from their own.      

Finally, then, there is the Smithsonian article centered on the great migration of black Americans from the South to the North and West from 1910-1970.  Again, we have a group of people denied the fruits of freedoms because of the pigment of their skin, freedoms so beautifully detailed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.  While the great immigration which occurred into America in the early 20th century and has been documented and extolled by those proud of their European ancestors' sacrifices to provide better opportunities for their families, the similar story of the migration of blacks within America, has been much less so publicized.  When you realize that many of the great contributions to the making of today's America, were germinated in black homes all across the South, then fulfilled by a generation that refused to live in a place where they weren't welcome, instead risking life and limb to move North and West for equal treatment, it is a testament as much to black patience that the civil rights marches weren't more violent, in response to the despicable treatment that blacks received in America during the Jim Crow years.

One might even go so far as to say that it is a miracle that the LGBT community fought most of their battles in the courts rather than on the streets.  As a white person, I can only shake my head at the myopic behavior of those who believe that pale skin equated superiority, and then had the gall to justify such inhumanity with words of God.  Similarly, as a heterosexual, it is hard to fathom being told that I can't marry the person I love, can't openly show affection to that person, can't even be with them as they lay dying in a hospital.  Yet, despite our recent progress, a story in this past Sunday's Inquirer about a transgender boy who was told he couldn't attend a Catholic school because of the belief that God made him female, therefore they could not condone his "choice" to be male, still indicates how far we still have to go.

It is quite simple to say that 9/11 was a cowardly act of terrorism which caused the loss of thousands of innocent lives.  And certainly, I would agree that killing others, even when you feel it is justified by their actions, is not a response that we should encourage.  Yet, killing others out of revenge, is the name of the game when it comes to our war on terror.  Applause resounds when it is stated that we should "bomb them back to the stone age", yet we are surprised and angry when an act of violence occurs on our soil.  Better to fight them over there than here is certainly soporific to the ears of an electorate that would prefer not to think, but doesn't create friends among those avoiding bombs dropping from the sky.

The lessons that can be gained from 9/11 are many.  Some revolve around the belief that we need to be ever vigilant in our guard against those who would destroy our way of life.  Even if that means sacrificing our rights to root out those who work to destroy those rights.  It is a fine line to walk, certainly a great subject for debate, but an insult to the American electorate when presented as "us" versus "them".  It wasn't that long ago when "they" were Japs and Krauts, followed by the time when they were "Ruskies".  And even less time ago when "they" were niggers.  Or faggots.

Perhaps a better lesson one might take from 9/11 is that the Earth is inhabited by over 7 billion people.  And, while there is a huge diversity encapsulated within that population, a diversity of race, religion, culture, and ethnicity, perspective and politics, even sexual preference and gender identification, the vast majority of people, regardless of how different they look, or how strange seems their customs, strive to create a comfortable life for themselves and better opportunities for their children.  I believe that goal, that overriding drive, is inscribed in our DNA.  Embedded perhaps from the time one-celled life first struggled to replicate, through the time when life first emerged from the sea, to the time when our ancestors left the trees.  Make our existence more comfortable, and present a better way for our children.

Certainly, if we gauged our actions on that premise, knowing that everyone else, friend and enemy alike acted in concert, we might never have to discuss the lessons of future 9/11's.



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

One last Look at Luck

I received the quarterly update from my State Rep this past week.  In it, he did as all politicians do, listed the achievements of the past legislative session, while also explaining a few of his votes.  While I rarely agree with my representative, I am grateful that he communicates in this way to his constituency.  Also, it can be very revealing when reading his words as they sometimes reveal more than perhaps, is intended.

In this last update, my rep stated with pride that the 2016-17 budget was passed without the long delay which occurred last year, that it was balanced without broad based tax increases, education funding was increased, and that many long standing issues were addressed.  He also detailed the committees he is serving on, a list which includes Aging and Older Adult Services, Education, and Human Services.

Of course, two of the biggest issues facing our legislature, pension reform and infrastructure funding, were not mentioned in his summary.  Certainly, those issues will not be easy to address, as they will require additional revenue, and raising taxes is never an easy option to defend but is an easy target to attack as evidenced by our Governor's proposals to raise a number of taxes to address those issues, proposals which were dead in the water since the make-up of our legislature is 2 to 1 in favor of the other party.  There is no easy answer to either of these issues, so rather than leading, our legislature continues to act with the hope that when those difficult votes occur, they won't be the ones to have to make the difficult decisions.

Curiously, my rep specifically mentioned that $675 million dollars was cut from the governor's welfare programs.  One would think that balancing the budget on the backs of those with the least would not be a bragging point.  In conjunction with his party's insistence that the natural gas industry not be levied an extraction tax, a tax that would probably have helped maintain the $675 million dollars he is so proud to have cut, not to mention may have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for other needed issues, at least the GOP is consistent with its overall philosophy that those with less, those who have had unforeseen accidents, lost the birth lottery, or otherwise did not succeed per the yardstick of money and influence, deserve their fate, while those with more, those who have been blessed with parents of wealth or power, those who have been fortunate enough to have been rewarded for their hard work while avoiding the accidents of life that derail others' attempts to improve their lot, should continue to receive all the advantages that big money and special interests can buy.

I often wonder, assuming God judges us on how we treated those with the greatest need rather than those with the greatest purse, if the men and women who are so boisterous in their public flogging of the "lazy poor" will be tortured with the vision of the children, the disabled, and the mentally and physically ill who were dependent on their good will but were sacrificed at the altar of avarice and pride.

And I also wonder if more people in my district who read my rep's update, thought it fine and dandy to have cut that money from welfare programs or were struck by the hypocrisy of someone who was proud to be serving on committees which "impact some of the most vulnerable members of our communities" yet who extolled the cutting of so much money for those very people.



Monday, August 29, 2016

Luck and Perspective

It is so difficult not to become vain about one's own good luck.
                                                                                        -Simone de Beauvoir, 1963

A quote from Luck.  You may want to Google Ms de Beauvoir, and even if you only read the Wikipedia entry on her, you will gain some interesting information.

My addendum quote to the above might be - It is so difficult not to become bitter about one's own bad luck, and envious in an unhealthy way about those you deem lucky.

Strangely, I would imagine that many people deemed lucky by others, may not consider themselves lucky.  I would guess that there are many billions of people currently residing outside of the United States who consider every American citizen to be lucky just to have been born here.  I would guess that when reading about famous people, many Americans think those stars are lucky, even though we also love to read about their problems.  Their failed marriages, drug and alcohol abuse,and often short life spans are great fodder for the tabloids, demonstrating us to be as curious as the rubberneckers who just have to look at the car accident as they pass.  Yet, I would bet if  answered honestly, a significant percentage of the rich and famous actually feel unlucky and are envious of the rest of us, anonymous in our ordinary lives.

Ah, perspective.

There is an interesting and alarming article in the September edition of National Geographic about potential and ongoing commercial developments in the Grand Canyon.  I am fortunate in that, as a young adult I made three visits to the Grand Canyon.  While I did not devote the time to really experience such an incredible natural wonder, I can still recall the awe I experienced when standing at the edge and gazing for miles in all directions at the sheer beauty of the canyon, knowing that its creation took millions of years of natural processes.  One could arguably see such an example of the raw power required to carve the canyon, and the patience necessary for its surrounding walls to endure the relentless erosion of the rushing Colorado river, and conclude that God does exist, to provide us with such a powerful vista.  And that each of us is special as well in Her eyes.

Unfortunately, there are those who see the Grand Canyon as just another way to make a large pile of money.  Most people don't know, or prefer to remain ignorant of the fact, that there are still American Indians living on reservations today, and that there is much land in the American west under their jurisdiction, including a lot of the area surrounding the Grand Canyon.  One such tribe has been granted unlimited license to fly as many tourist helicopter rides as they can sell, resulting in an area on the western end of the canyon being known as helicopter alley due to the sheer volume of noise the hundreds of copter rides occurring each day can make.

Of course, I tend to give this tribe a mulligan when it comes to their endeavor to be capitalists.  Our treatment of the American Indian is a national shame that will only be erased if hollow phrases like make America Great Again, are allowed to pretend that America's history is rife with examples of its greatness, if you were a white male.  Besides, there is plenty of blame to go around, from multi-national corporations looking to improve the profit margin of their holdings in the tourist and entertainment industries, to politicians who are all too eager to sell off our nation's recreational areas to developers. loggers, miners and fossil fuel companies so as to swell their campaign money chests, to private land owners all to willing to trade clean water and air for a temporary windfall, knowing full well they will move as soon as they can leaving their neighbors to deal with the environmental costs of their greed, to even some in the government agencies themselves who were hired to ostensibly protect the integrity of our national parks, but instead cozy up to those very same entities listed above knowing that their favorable rulings on opening new drilling sites will garner them a cushy job in said industry when their "public" service is over.

As I was walking the dog this morning, thinking about today's post, I tried to play devil's advocate against myself in reference to this issue.  Certainly, it is important for America to seek energy solutions at every turn, as the bigger picture or global uncertainty is not to be ignored.  And, of course, it is important for people of vision, people who can transform possibility into reality and concepts into jobs to be nurtured as their contributions are necessary for our continued economic well being.  It is a difficult balancing act, regulating and restricting businesses while encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation.  But when we entrust our public servants to do what is best for all people, not just those who have the resources to gain their ear and improve their bank accounts, then the rest of us must stay vigilant to the point of protesting all development that threatens our public recreational lands and remaining pristine environments.  If we abdicate our responsibility and leave these decisions in the hands of those whose only yardstick is profit, our legacy to the generations of Americans to come will reek with the stench of profit before people, and the philosophy that the only valuable land is that with malls and entertainment centers with corporation names.

Natural wonders, parks with walking trails and babbling brooks, camping areas in the woods, undeveloped fields of wild flowers have a value that cannot be determined.  Allowing those whose perspective is gauged only by the thickness of their wallets and breadth of their portfolios, is not only short term thinking at its worst, but a slap in the face to a creator whose work can last millenniums yet be despoiled in a few short months.      


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Good Luck

The Summer edition of Lapham's Quarterly arrived a few months ago.  The focus this time is Luck.  As a log time advocate for the understanding of how important and determinant is the Birth Lottery, I was expecting an enjoyable few months of reading.  While I can't say I am disappointed so far, I also can't say it is one of my favorite editions.  Yes, there is a multitude of essays and stories demonstrating the link between failure and luck, and success and luck.  Perhaps because the concept was already instilled in me, this particular assemblage has not set off bells in my head, or made me say AHA, as has happened while reading other Laphams.

Until I came to a short essay towards the end of the edition.  This particular person's quotes were from a book published in 2008.  He begins by commenting on the phrase, "Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness", a comment with which he agrees, then furthers by suggesting that those who complain about others' luck aren't working themselves into luck.  "If you want to be lucky, prepare for something big", he says.

Further, he comments on those who vent their frustrations and anxieties.  How there is a trend of thought that says that venting ones problems is healthier than keeping them inside.  Unfortunately, he states, this is only true to a point.  Complaining without doing anything about it can be detrimental to one's physical and mental well being.  With the advent of blogging and other forms of social media, he continues, "people are spending way too much time harping on negative themes.  The emphasis is out of balance, and the negative focus doesn't help the situation."

He goes on further to say, "Don't dwell so much on a problem that you've exhausted yourself before you can even entertain a solution.  It just doesn't make sense."

And finally, "It takes brainpower and energy to think positively and creatively - and to see creatively and positively.  Going negative is the easy way, the lazy way.  Use your brainpower to focus on positives and solutions, and your own mind-set will help create your own luck."  

Some good stuff there.  I like the part about exhausting yourself in worry to the point where you have no energy left to address a problem.  We seem to be a nation of worriers if one is to believe all the stats about our usage of anti-depressants.  Also, I especially like the part about going negative being the easy way, the lazy way.  It reminds me of all those people who look for simple answers to complicated problems, who prefer the offerings of simple answers, black and white answers, and/or a deflection of a solution via blaming others, particularly a segment of the population that is not like oneself.  When complex problems require complex solutions, the lazy approach is to offer simple answers steeped in prejudice.    

So, who is this font of wisdom?  None other than Donald Trump, from his book Trump Never Give Up, 2008.


Is the Donald Trump running for president a different person that the one quoted in 2008, or has he used the prep work of the GOP's platform of racism, anti-government ranting, and fear of those with different cultures, then multiplied it with the obsession over President Obama's nation of birth.  Is he lucky to be the GOP nominee, or just more prepared to take advantage of the mind set of a certain population of Americans, especially white, male Americans?

What seems really strange, is that Hillary Clinton has also created her own luck to be in a position to be the first woman President.  Of course, she took the establishment path.  She has held political positions, first lady by default, but then state senator and secretary of state through hard work and personal ambition.  She knows all the players, knows how the system works, and spent the last decade preparing herself for the opportunity, despite the unexpected setback in 2008 when America chose the first Black President rather than the first Woman.

How ironic, the establishment candidate, a woman, vs the outsider, a white male, who in reality is not really an outsider as evidenced by his own words of how he donated to all politicians, GOP as well as Democrat, knowing they would take his calls and ease his path when he needed it.

Of course, one of these paths will win the day in November, while one will come up short.  If we are to believe Trump's words, it is nice to think that the electorate will recognize the lazy way, the negative focused way, the way of division, isolation and prejudice, and vote for the person who puts forward words of cooperation, community, and creativity towards finding solutions for our problems.  
As it appears that Trump is sticking with the path that garnered him the GOP nomination, let's hope that Clinton is that candidate, that she can cobble together a big enough coalition of those who can look past her use of the establishment way (a path no different from one walked by many white male presidents before her), and reject the prepared way that Trump has walked, no ran down so effortlessly.

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.