Friday, October 21, 2016

The Last Debate (Hurrah)

So, I didn't actually watch the debate last night.  My wife and I are still watching every episode of Longmire on Netflix, (we are now in season 5), and then once she went to bed, I worked on a new story with the Cubs-Dodgers game in the background.  I did flash to the debate between innings at one point, at the exact time that the candidates were discussing the sexcapades.  I immediately turned back to the game.

Not to excuse the obviously distasteful behavior of both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, how big a correlation is there between morale character and the ability to lead?  Does philandering necessarily disqualify someone from being able to run a successful business or govern effectively?

Clearly, I would prefer a president who displays the best qualities of being a human.  But if we are to limit those we elect to people who never cheated or lied, the halls of Congress would be a great place to hear one's echo.  Also, even when someone does seem moral, married once, a few kids from that one marriage, no apparent infidelity, if his name is Barrack Obama, he is still disrespected by those who cannot accept a man of color in the White House.  When the same groups that have the words Family and Values in their title, support a thrice married man with 5 children from those 3 woman, yet routinely claim that our current president hates America and families, then it makes me wonder why we pretend to value morals in the first place.

I know that we can no longer expect our public servants to have private lives, but if we accept that every misstep and peccadillo of our elected officials should be known, and if we continue to watch alleged news outlets that reward extremism while suppressing civility, then we must also accept that no one will ever emerge unscathed from a presidential election campaign.  Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton triumphs in November, a large percentage of Americans will consider the winner to be the best of two very poor choices, not necessarily because they are such poor choices but because our political discourse has become so polarized that Jesus himself would be badmouthed if he were running for office.

The good news about the debates was that a record number of people watched.  But, it seems they watched, not so much to learn about and evaluate the policies of the two people vying for the most powerful and influential job in the world, but in the same way people roll down their windows as they pass the wreckage of a car crash on the interstate.

While, as I said above, I did not watch the last debate, I read some reviews of it, who made some good points, who "won", who stretched the truth, who seemed more "presidential".  Of course, depending on the source, both candidates made good points, both won, both lied and both seemed presidential!  But when I searched for some substance, some particulars about what each might try to accomplish, the results were sparse.

To be fair, had I been advising Hillary Clinton, I would have told her to be vague.  It seems pretty obvious that the more Donald Trump says, the more holes he digs.  At this point, I guess he really believes that by appealing to only one particular demographic group, white males, specifically older and less educated white males, he can win.  Perhaps if this was 1950, that would be true, but then again in 1950, racism, xenophobia and sexism were much more mainstream than now.

As I have said in a previous post, it behooves the electorate to research the platforms of the candidates respective party, as well as their individual web sites.  As they say, the devil is in the details, and that is where the voters can learn if they are voting for someone whose policies reflect their own priority list, someone whose party is aligned with the needs of themselves and their families.  Once done, that research will also help with the other election choices, those running for Congress, as well as those running to represent us in our state capitals.

I was not a fan of George H Bush.  I thought that he nailed it when he labelled Reagan's economic policies as voodoo economics, but lost much respect when he rode Reagan's tails to the White House. In the ensuing years, he had regained some of that respect through his work with the president who succeeded him, and his other humane activities.  Even more importantly, and in light of Donald Trump's refusal to say that he would respect the results of the election, today's release of the letter that Bush left for Clinton increases even more that level of respect.  He understood the need for a peaceful transfer of power, and put country ahead of party and personal ambition, both traits that Trump does not possess.

I am aghast at the comments that have been made by Donald Trump.  I understand that many people like his bluntness, his political incorrectness, his "truthfulness".  Diplomacy is not something I excel at either, so I understand his supporters who ignore some of his comments with the excuse that he is not a politician, not used to massaging his message.  But calling people fat pigs, making fun of the disabled, dissing prisoners of war, arguing with the parents of a soldier killed in action, bragging about how power and money allow him to do whatever he wants, are not words of political incorrectness, they are words of someone who has no empathy for others, has no connection with middle class Americans unless that connection is based on prejudice.

But even if none of that was true, Donald Trump and the GOP establishment he pretends to be at odds with, reflect very little of what I believe in, and what I believe are solutions to the problems we face.

While both Trump and Clinton have benefited from the influence peddling that occurs in Washington, only Clinton will nominate a Supreme Court Justice who might overturn the Citizens United ruling.

While both candidates have said some nasty things about each other, only Trump talks of jailing his opponent should he win.

While both agree that we need immigration reform, Trump talks of deporting all illegal immigrants while Clinton supports a path to citizenship for those who have become productive members of our society.

While Trump bandies about words suggesting he would use nuclear weapons, likes war, and believes that killing and torturing the family members of our enemies is OK, Clinton understands that engaging with one'e enemies sometimes can lead to understanding one another, then perhaps, even a guarded tolerance.  

While Trump claims that the elite have forgotten the average American, only Clinton will fight for a woman's right to choose, equal pay for equal work, and marriage equality, and only Clinton understands that America was built on the strength of its melting pot heritage, that diversity in our population has helped make us the great country we are today.

While both candidates know that Americans need good paying jobs, Trump promises to bring back jobs from the past, as if that is possible, while Clinton looks forward to creating new jobs that coincide with the future of energy.

While Trump continues to call climate change a hoax, Clinton listens to the overwhelming scientific opinion, and will craft a response that will balance the need to reduce our carbon footprint with the least disruption for those who are employed by those industries that will need to be altered.

While both candidates are extremely wealthy, Trump's tax cuts will go overwhelmingly to those like him, while Clinton will increase the tax rates for the most wealthy.  Remember, it is Clinton who has paid her taxes, while Trump brags that he pays at little at he can.

Trump and the GOP have not expressed any interest in raising the minimum wage or addressing income inequality, while Clinton and the Dems will certainly introduce legislation that will attempt to rectify 30 years of middle class buying power stagnation.

The last debate is over.  Despite being completely turned off by this election cycle, by the polarization of the coverage, and by the dearth of real solutions being debated, I maintain faith that the American people will elect the first woman president in our history after electing, twice, the first
African American president in history.    


Monday, October 17, 2016

Me, For President

So, now that I have thrown my hat into the ring, I assume all restrictions on what I can say about my opponents are lifted.  Innuendo, half truths, gossip, even outright falsehoods are apparently OK.  The contestant ring that encompasses politics has always been this way, and this year's presidential election, while filled with the most personal attacks as any in recent times, does not necessarily corner the market in vitriolic political discourse.  The big difference however, is that social media provides an outlet for the entire range of nonsense to reach everyone, and be enhanced by anyone with a theory and a phone.

So, here are a few of my favorites.

The first is directed specifically to the evangelical community that is reluctant to acknowledge that they stand behind Donald Trump because he has indicated he would appoint a supreme court justice who would rule in their favor on the abortion and marriage equality issues, despite the fact that Trump has five children with three different wives.  Can you imagine their furor if President Obama boasted such stats?  Well, guess what?  I heard that The Donald has at least one, perhaps three illegitimate children, and has paid for no less than two abortions for the various women he "courted" during, and between his various marriages.

But wait, Hillary has her own secret, even more unsettling than her email problems.  For those of you who have wondered why she stood behind Bill despite his obvious extra-marital flings, it is well known that Clinton "favors" the ladies.  I have heard that some of Bill's partners were chosen by Hillary to satisfy her desires for some menage a trois action.

Of course, neither of these accusations is true, although where there is smoke, there is often fire so who knows?   Besides, truth is not a requirement in this election.

So, now that I have cast dispersions on the two main candidates, why should someone vote for me?

To begin, my platform is far less complicated than that of the major parties.  Not simple, because there are no simple answers which will solve our pressing problems, but far less convoluted.

First, any new law being proposed must address the needs of the middle class.  It was the middle class that blossomed after the second World War, that spurred economic growth, a higher standard of living, a boom in advanced education and degrees, and the idea that anyone who worked would have the opportunity to improve their life and the lives of their family.

So, in terms of taxes, the burden must be spread out more equally.  Tax rates do not need to be adjusted, but the use of tax deductions needs to be restricted by the creation of a tax rate floor for each tax bracket.  In the 35% bracket?  You can take tax deductions down to 20%, but no more.  In the 25% bracket, no lower that 10%.  In the 10% bracket, no less than 1%.  Everyone who works must participate, as both a patriotic duty and an understanding that it costs money to fund a military to protect us, to build and maintain our infrastructure, and to provide a safety net when circumstances outside our control occur.          

This applies to businesses as well as people.  The last I checked, the business community is also protected by the military, uses our roads and bridges to transport goods, and receives assistance when the unforeseen results in bad debts or bankruptcy.  It is not a one way street, yet it appears that the influence the business community has on our tax laws belies the fact that businesses cannot exist with a work force, and that the American worker propels those businesses.

This does not mean that we don't need a thriving business community, or an environment that nurtures innovation and entrepreneurship.  It means that there needs to be a cooperation between business and government to advance the middle class, period, because when the relationship between business and government becomes collusionary, then wealth stays in too few hands.  It is the middle class that drives the economy by purchasing the goods and services that business provides.  When the circle is broken and the middle class can no longer afford the products and services of the business community, various good intentioned but short term stimuli are employed which generally create bubbles, not unlike the bubble of the late 90's and the housing bubble of the early 2000's.

Which brings us to the crux of the problem, the belief that 6,8, 10% growth is necessary each and every year.  This expectation, driven by the creation of the corporation which knows no allegiance to any country, let alone the people of that country, is the impetus behind the boom/bust cycle that has dominated our economic strategy for the past 40 years.  Of course, it is natural to taste the fruits of a booming economy and want it to continue, but it is not natural for it to continue.  There cannot be exponential growth for an extended period of time without artificial stimuli.  And, ultimately, the boom or bust cycle only benefits the wealthy who can weather the bad times so as to come out even further ahead when the times improve again, as evidenced by the recovery of the past 6 years that has exacerbated income inequality.

There is a lot of frustration in America today with our political system.  But I believe it is born out of an economic frustration that hard work is no longer rewarded with the chance at attaining the American dream.  In accordance then with the bedrock belief in the necessity of a thriving middle class, I would encourage the business community, private and public, to provide a livable wage to all their employees, along with a basic healthcare insurance plan.  I would prefer this to be done on a voluntary basis, despite the fact that it has been made very clear by certain sectors of our business community that any law requiring health care insurance will be sidetracked by some of our larger corporate employers to gain an advantage over their competitors, again, in search of bigger dividends for their stockholders.  So, in the short run, I would encourage those businesses to provide wages and benefits that every American worker deserves, by requiring those employers who compensate their employees in a substandard way, to pay for the state and federal assistance these hard working Americans need to feed, clothe, and shelter their families.

I believe that at the end of the day, greed is the greatest threat to America today.  There are too many of us who seek wealth by any means necessary, even if it entails scamming our senior citizens with tales of family members in trouble or IRS investigations.  But more than that, the corporate mentality that emboldens good people to make decisions which send jobs to the lowest labor markets, destroying the American communities which had previously provided the labor for that company's growth and success.  This belief, that what is good for the corporation is good for America, is a poison that needs to be cleansed from our business model.  This is starkly illustrated when one examines the payroll distribution of many of our multinational behemoths which detail top end earners at 500+ times the salaries of those who do the meat and potatoes work of the organization.  For some of them, merely redistributing salaries can save the jobs they claim are important to them.

It is also greed, rampant in Hollywood as well as in sports, that lavishes 7 and 8 figure salaries on those at the top.  Again, I would prefer people voluntarily realizing that the tens of millions of dollars they are earning could be better distributed to improve our schools, take better care of our veterans, and spur investment in our infrastructure.  But short of that, perhaps a luxury tax on salaries above
$5 million per year, paid to help balance the underfunded pension funds and social security system might reduce the allure of obscene wealth.

The hard truth is that if America is less great than it used to be, it is because Americans are less great than previous generations.  For that reason, I would inculcate the next few generations into a mindset that values community building, and service to our communities, states and country.  But also that self reliance includes a sense of responsibility for others, not precludes it.

It is far too easy to blame others for our troubles, whether that other hails from foreign or domestic soil.  The hard truth is that it is not jobs, or a strong military, or a Wall, that will make America great, but a resurgence of spirituality in our political system, and each other.  Not religion which is used to create hatred and isolation, spirituality that results in treating others as family.  But it is not an easy goal to attain.  You won't hear it from the other candidates.  But if you listen, truly listen, you will see the truth of it everyday on the playground, and you will hear it from the mouths of the innocent who just want to play with their friend, regardless of her skin color, religion, or gender identity.

And, at times, from me, Joe Pugnetti, candidate for president.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Issue with Women

A few weeks ago, I commented on the obvious disparity in how women are viewed in politics after reading a comment made by President Obama in regards to sexism in America.  It takes only a few strokes of the keyboard to find a plethora of evidence that the gender gap is alive and well in our country, in business as well as politics.  The simple fact that the defenders of the current GOP presidential nominee's past inappropriate actions, and recent derogatory statements about women, use evidence of womanizing by Bill Clinton to cast a poor light on Hillary Clinton illustrates this prejudice.  We have seen this movie before, blaming the victims of rape and spousal abuse with the tired phrase, boys will be boys. Was there ever a reciprocal situation where a male candidate was held to account for his wife's indiscretions?  Or more pointedly, a woman candidate accused of repeated condescending attitudes towards men being defended by claims that the male candidate was just as guilty due to the infidelity of his spouse?

In particular, the electorate of my home state of Pennsylvania has shown a remarkable hesitancy to elect women, especially at the state and national levels.  Fortunately, there is a organization that is addressing this problem, Emerge Pennsylvania.

Along with Emerge groups in 15 other states, EmergePennsylvania identifies, trains and supports women to run for elected office.  While in its infancy (the first Emerge state chapter dates only to 2002), this organization has proven to be effective, having helped elect hundreds of qualified women to date.  But there is still much work to do, most specifically in addressing the reasons why the American electorate is so hesitant to choose women candidates over their male counterparts.

In business, experience, or lack therof, is often touted as the prime reason which creates a ceiling for a woman's ascension to the corporate boardroom.  And, of course, like all Catch 22 situations, women can't get experience a the higher levels of politics, if they aren't elected in the first place.  That is why it is so critical to create a network of women, both as candidates and advisers, to establish a pathway, upon which women can take that first step.  Emerge Pennsylvania is such a pathway.  

(Important note, here.  Experience is clearly not the driving quality in politics today.  There is a real undercurrent of distrust for "career" politicians, hence the fact that the 2016 presidential election is still too close to call despite the obvious advantage one candidate has over the other in terms of public service.  What is truly odd here, is that in all other areas where we seek a professional for advice or service, whether it be a doctor, lawyer, or business owner, we eschew the novice for the expert.  No one wants an intern doing their brain surgery, or a first year lawyer defending them in a murder trial.  Still ironic is that lawyers have only slightly better reputations than politicians, yet we still seek experienced and seasoned ones when our legal rights are at stake, yet often elect the outsider in a political contest).

But I digress.

Perhaps the real issue is that part and parcel to a woman candidate is the belief that a woman will focus on "woman's" issues, and that these issues and less critical that a man's.  Just like we associate the concept of masculinity with war, and security, and economics, do we then dismiss women candidates because we associate her with concepts like compassion, empathy, tenderness, even weakness?  While a woman may be called a cold bitch if she is a taskmaster at work, she can still achieve a higher level of success compared to a man considered effeminate in work or politics.    

The strange and twisted task being attempted by Emerge Pennsylvania, is to convince women that a career in public service is worthwhile, even commendable, that the American electorate is eager for public servants they can trust, a real advantage for women, and our concept of the qualities we associate with women, yet harden them to the reality that despite our desire for elected officials to do the best for the most of us, we frequently bash those in office when we only disagree with one opinion, forgetting that our Congresswomen represent all the people in their respective district or state.  Whereas the concept of compromise, surely a word one might associate with a woman more so than a man, is necessary to move government forward, it is now used as a cudgel to classify the candidates as, for us, or for them.  The veil of secrecy that once protected our elected officials from revelations of their private lives has been firmly replaced by the notion that everything is fodder for the public's right to know, especially when that bit of information casts the candidates in a light less that complimentary.  Perhaps women are better suited for this challenge, having endured a HIStory filled with apples in Eden, prostitutes among the Apostles, and temptresses of all races and religions.

America is about as diverse a country as there is, perhaps ever was.  Diversity is our strength, yet we seem married to the idea that only white men can govern well, despite the ironic fact that we trust those we elect less than any other profession, and most of them are white men.   All things being equal then, I generally choose women candidates over men, in the hope that infusing the political system with people more concerned with compromise that conflict, will result in a government more attuned to the needs of all its citizens.

And I am grateful for the existence of organizations like Emerge Pennsylvania for their work to shed some light into the dark halls of back room deals and good old boy politics.



Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What is a Liberal

A slight gap in my posts recently.  Nora and I spent a week at the beach, just returning last Friday. Despite the rain, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  If retirement will be like that, Bring It On!!

We spent one lazy, rain-filled day watching a Netflix series called Longmire.  If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it by retelling any of the episodes.  As far as I can tell, the series started in 2012, and will begin its 6th season soon.  We watched all of season one and two, and have started season three since returning home.

I mention it, because the depiction of the American Indian is very intense, regardless of which side you might fall on in terms of how these people and their culture have been treated, and portrayed in history,  Of course, this is still a TV show, but based on my limited knowledge of the history of the American Indian, there appears to be a serious attempt to convey ugly truth, whether that truth reflects white men or red.

Longmire is the sheriff of a county that borders a reservation of Cheyenne.  Strangely, he is considered both the friend and enemy of Indians and White men, depending on the motives and perspective of the person in question.  For many on the reservation, his arrests of Indians who have broken white men laws makes him just another white authority figure.  For those he has defended against illegal or prejudiced practices against the Cheyenne, he is a friend.  In the community where he resides, he is held up as both a protector of white men against those Indians who stray from their place and improperly act within the white men's town, and a friend of the Indian when he sides with them against an oil or logging company which ignores Indian rights to improve their profits.

I would imagine that the Longmire character would not consider himself a liberal, despite his acts to defend those whose rights have been violated or abused, just a good sheriff who upholds the law regardless of skin color of victim or predator.  Yet one might say that defending the defenseless, standing firm for those run over by the wheels of profit or the prejudices of men, is a liberal trait.    

Along those lines, I recently sent an email to all my email contacts, asking them to send me a list of five words they would use to describe "liberal".  While my sample size is small and certainly unscientific, I was curious what words liberals and those who do not describe themselves as such might send my way.  Also, I knew from the start that my sampled respondents leaned to the liberal side of the aisle.  But that didn't matter much, as I was looking for a particular adjective, which I expected would only come from those who described themselves as liberal.

First, the results.

Of the 114 adjectives I was sent, I gauged each as positive or negative as much as possible, with the last column to include words that were neither or both.

Some of the positive words were;  accepting, broad minded, altruistic, compassion, diverse, empathy, fair, equality, inclusive, humanitarian, openness, optimistic, progressive, tolerant, visionary.

Some of the negative words were; angry, confiscatory, close minded, favoritism, hypocrite, intolerant, indulgent, loud, persuadable, spendthrift, welfare.

I considered words like activist, naive, rich, and scientific as neither.

Of the positive words, 6 people said progressive, 5 open mindedness. 4 tolerant, while 2 said intolerant.  There were many more positive words, even from those whom I do not consider liberal and who also returned some negative words.  In total, 15 returned all or mostly positive words, 4 returned all or mostly negative words, and 3 returned a mixture of positive and negative.

But no one said spiritual.

I consider Jesus Christ the greatest liberal in history, not withstanding the other great prophets and spiritually enlightened people who are the basis for religions other than Christianity.  He is the one I was taught about as the child of Catholic parents, and, despite my reading most of the great religious tomes and books which relate the lives of those whose teachings have been used to found the religions of the world, He is the one I most identify with as a guide for how to treat one another.

Consequently, as a liberal, and believer in a progressive political platform, I am in favor of marriage equality, tolerance for those with a different gender preference than I, or a different gender identity than their original physical traits indicate.  I believe in equal pay for equal work.  I believe that income equality is a huge problem today, and agree that there is a limit to how much money one should earn, referring to the parable of the rich man's chances of getting into heaven as surely as a camel can pass through the eye of a needle.  I think that violence begets violence, and believe it is contrary to Christ's teachings to spend $600 billion a year on weapons and warfare.  I believe that our planet is our home, and that one should not pollute the air and water of one's planet just as one would not pollute the air and water of one's personal home.  And I believe that avoiding paying one's share for the bounty and advantage that we all, as Americans, our graced with, not by our doing but merely by having won the birth lottery, may be good business, but is not patriotic, and certainly not the trait of a spiritual man.

And finally, for those that say, it is not the government's job to create and enforce such policies that reward spirituality over greed, I say refer to the first line of the Declaration of Independence, We, the People...  

In the end, we, the people of America, the people of planet Earth, are responsible for our fate and our future.  I believe that a liberal is a person who acknowledges that responsibility, and strives to create a social structure that encompasses fairness, tolerance, and above all, spirituality.

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.