Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Exploration, here and beyond

Interesting items in the November National Geographic.  One about the renewed interest in travelling to, landing on, and colonizing Mars, the other concerning the ever relaxing restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba.

In the items about Cuba, the Nat Geo writer dispensed with the standard political discourse as to whom to blame, the recently deceased Castro or the over 50 year response by our government to his rule, and focused on the people and how American tourism might help or hurt.  We often forget that the rest of the world has not banned its citizens from visiting Cuba, tourists from Canada and Europe have been travelling to and from Cuba for decades.  But America, a mere 90 miles away at its closest point, has been for decades as unreachable as many think Mars is today.

Now, Cuba will receive American tourists by the boatload, and not those boats often found swamped in the ocean between Cuba and Florida, but huge cruise ships with thousands of tourists eager to spend their vacation money on a Cuban experience.  Will that influx of money help improve the infrastructure of Cuba which has deteriorated during the embargo?  Will it improve the life and living standards of the everyday Cuban who has been virtually exempt from the amazing changes that have occurred since the 1960's?  Will it alter our perception of the people of Cuba, remind us that they seek the same things we seek, and enable us to consider them without the filter of politics?  Will we aid them in their transition, extending an open hand as opposed to the closed fist which we have long shown to them?  And, in discovering the strength of the Cuban people, and the beauty of their land, especially the Gardens of the Queen, the pristine marine preserve that lies untrammeled on Cuba's western coast, will we tread like explorers seeking knowledge and insight, or conquerors looking for resources to plunder?

Despite a recent discussion I had with a friend who insists that the US Government has had secret bases on Mars for many years, and that there is intelligent life there as well, I am encouraged by the recent interest in sending humans to Mars in the next 20 years.  (If you google secret mars bases, you can read for yourself some of the internet talk on this subject).  I am encouraged, despite the incredible challenges that such space travel entails, and the enormous costs involved, because it is bigger-than-life goals such as this that, I believe, is essential for humans to maintain and nurture, both as individuals and as groups. I feel strongly that if America truly needs to be great again, it is for lack of vision that was reflected in the race to the moon of the 1960's.  You can argue the point from a which came first, the chicken or the egg debate, but it seems clear to me that humanity can only reach its full potential through advanced goals.  Keep the bar low, get low returns, raise the bar high get remarkable returns.  

While I vividly remember watching on our 12" black and white TV as Neil Armstrong jumped lightly from the Eagle onto the lunar surface, I was certainly unaware at the time how incredible a trip it had been from the inspiring words of JFK in 1961 to that historic day.  I read recently that the NASA budget at the time was about 4% of the total budget for the United States (that would be like spending $140 billion today compared with the actual budget of $18 billion).  In addition to that huge commitment of resources, the NASA team was comprised of the smartest people of the time, not to mention the bravest.  While I am sure that today's NASA team also includes some of the best and brightest of our time, I wonder if the focus on individual wealth and fame precludes many from such a career.  

My interpretations of the greatest events in human history includes an understanding that virtually all of these events were the result of cooperation within a group towards a common goal.  While there is plenty of evidence in today's vitriolic version of media and communication concerning organizations of people with common concerns, the conversations seem more tribal than cooperative.  Our group versus your group.  We versus them.  While we all must wish for a successful Trump presidency, as his success is America's success, I am concerned that his vision of a great America is a backward looking one.  He clearly is in tune with the issues that everyday Americans face, but offers solutions that are rooted in how things were, not how things are or can someday be.

Fortunately, men like Elon Musk, founder of Space X, along with the unsung thousands who work with Musk, at other private space exploration firms and NASA, continue to provide vision about what can be accomplished.  Like those who imagined the day when a man might walk on the moon, there are a multitude of men and women in America that imagine a day when some even greater event might take place, and who are willing to work in concert with other dreamers to make that event a reality.  Sadly, there are those with loud and influential voices who prefer to ignore the science that
presents information contrary to their religious and commercial perspectives, often ridiculing people of intellect and scientific discipline.

Of course, manned missions to Mars will not result in equitable income distribution, livable wage jobs, lower student debt, or health insurance for all Americans, but perhaps the mere goal of such a trip, and the fact that such a goal requires resources and cooperation across many disciplines and commitment from people from multiple generations, will spur Americans to think beyond the short term and begin to seek the deep satisfaction that only long term plans and group achievements can produce.

From being beaten into space by Sputnik and the Russians in 1957 to the first manned moon landing in 1969, we achieved a remarkable feat that most people thought impossible.  Imagine what the next twelve years could bring with such focus and determination!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Seeking the Silver Lining

In an effort to assuage some of the angst being felt by those on the left, I thought it timely to find the hidden silver lining as regards to our president elect, and the overall perceptions of those Americans who feel America is on the wrong track, or who are eager to get their country back, or are looking forward to seeing America become great again.

While there will always be negative media, especially with the rise of social media in which bad news spreads like an infectious disease, there will certainly be a reduction of negative stories from the family of Fox News broadcasts, once President Obama leaves office.  My hope is that many of those negative sounding stories will be replaced by neutral or upbeat accounts of what is happening.  For instance,

Unemployment spiked dramatically beginning in 2009 once the recession began to take hold of the economy, peaking at a bit over 10% during Obama's first term.  Since then, unemployment has steadily declined to around 5% as of this past month, but if one were to watch Fox business hosted by Lou Dobbs, the rate of unemployment was less emphasized as compared to those who have left the job market, or those who were under employed.  Perhaps starting on January 20th, and assuming unemployment remains low, Dobbs may remind his viewers that unemployment is at historical lows, and he may even throw in a commentary or two about there being tens of thousands of job openings, perhaps as a way of indicating that anyone not working isn't trying hard enough.

The stock market was also negatively effected by the recession.  On January 9th, 2009 the market closed at its bottom mark of 7063.  By November of this year, the market was over 18000, an increase of over 150%.  Yet, it seemed that this incredible turnaround was always buffered by a belief that either it could have been better, or that activity on Wall Street did not reflect everyday people who were still suffering.  Hopefully in about 51 days, stock market reports and analysis may emphasize the record setting aspect of the current market, and the fact that all those everyday Americans have more money in their 401K and IRA accounts.

Immigration was probably one of the hottest topics for those who chose Trump over Clinton.
Trump was seen as tough on illegals immigration (I will build a wall) while Clinton supported policies like the DREAM act.  It is hard to get a handle on actual numbers of deportations, as there are those on the left who bemoan the Obama record on deportations as being too draconian, while there are those on the right who claim his policies allows criminals to penetrate our border.   Assuming the truth is somewhere in between, and the clear fact that increased immigration, illegal or legal, is generally tied to job availability which is linked to economic growth, it should be easy for the bias in stories about immigration to begin shifting by mid January to detail just how many people are being caught trying to cross the border illegally, who are detained at the border, and who are deported if they commit a crime on US soil.  While these activities are happening now, more news stories about them will assure Americans that our borders are being better secured, even if the actual numbers of deportations don't actually change all that much.  And, even if there is token work on a wall, people will see something tangible being done and feel more at ease.

The anti-government rhetoric by Trump also played well in the heartland of America.  But now, Trump will be the government.  I expect that more uplifting stories about how the United States Government helps the average working American will be aired.  All the tax money that was previously characterized as wasted, will now be shown to be spent on Veterans Affairs, infrastructure, a strong military, support for police and fire departments, aid to seniors and children.  Again, it won't matter if the amounts spent are the same, or even a bit less, because reports of all the good being done with our tax dollars are so sparse now, that an increase in those articles will reaffirm Americans' belief that the government is working for them.  Also, evidence of a stronger border presence will cause Americans to view those departments involved as part of the solution as opposed to asleep at the wheel.

Finally, there may even be a respite on the attacks against the elite who have ruined America once the new cabinet and all the thousands of support staff are appointed.  They will be good people, the best people, even if they boast Ivy League degrees or have years of Wall Street experience.  The emphasis will be on competence over diversity, even though these are not mutually exclusive traits.  The attacks that our government is run by political hacks, and big donor relatives will be replaced by an emphasis on work ethic and accomplishments, even when those appointees are, in fact, big donors.

In short, our new president makes up for his lack of detailed knowledge of the world, with an extremely developed understanding of the effects of negative psychology when in attack mode, and positive psychology when in support mode.  As do those on the Fox executive board.  America, will, in fact, be great again, the moment Donald J Trump takes office, because he and Fox News will tell us so.  And, while that may seem like an illusion, feeling better about one's self, one's country goes a long way to making one's self, or one's country better.  For so many reasons that seem negative, a Trump presidency with the support of the best propaganda machine in America, may be good for our overall psyche.  Perhaps all we needed was someone to tell us we are great and everything will fall into place!

As always, I stay positive, and hopeful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Confronting the Trump in all of us

It has been a week since America awoke to the news that Donald Trump was elected the next president of the United States.  In that time, reactions from both Trump supporters and those who did not vote for him, have dominated the headlines.  

First, while I would prefer that those protesting Americans accept the fact that their choice did not win, I acknowledge their right to express their opinion in public demonstrations, just as, should Hillary Clinton had won, we would have allowed the Trump faithful to demonstrate on behalf of their candidate.  It should come as no surprise that so many people are angry and upset, as both candidates had high ratings of unfavorability during the entire campaign.  Someone had to win, someone had to lose, and half of the electorate was bound to be disappointed at the outcome.  To me, it is encouraging that so many people are expressing their concern, even though it comes in the wake of a reduced turnout at the polls as compared to 2008 and 2012, and might smack of closing the barn door after the horse has left for those of us who voted, for we all know that a certain percentage of the demonstrators didn't bother to cast a ballot last Tuesday.   But that would also have been true, regardless of the result.

I do however, object to the perception among the left that since Clinton won the popular vote, the second time in 16 years that a GOP candidate lost the popular vote but won the electoral count, we should consider abandoning the concept of the electoral college.  Or, that we should encourage some of the electors in that college, to vote contrary to the public's will, and choose Clinton over Trump.

As I said in a previous post, it is important to maintain the integrity of our institutions, despite our great disappointment at the recent election results.  If we allow the losing side to change the rules whenever it suits them, then the stability of our democratic system will be eroded.  The electoral college is not a perfect system, but it is the system designed by the founders to prevent a regional candidate from accruing such a huge majority of popular votes in a minority of states that victory in the overall election may be attained despite losing the popular vote in 30 or 35 states.  So yes, Clinton won the popular vote but she only won 21 states (if you include DC), which means that Trump won 30.  As I had suggested in a previous post, had Clinton won just 3 more states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, she would have won the electoral college vote 278-260. 

Would the left be so quick to want a change had Clinton won those three states, 24 in total, but lost the popular vote?  Would the right now be clamoring for that change instead, if, in winning 27 states they had won the popular vote but not the electoral college?  (By the way, in the 2000 presidential election when Bush bested Gore, Bush won 30 states despite losing the popular vote.  Had Gore won Florida, he would have won the election with just 21 states including DC, as opposed to 29 for Bush).

Second, my respect for President Obama has increased dramatically by his handling of the transfer of power to a man who actively questioned his nation of birth and religion for many years.  What an incredible show of restraint, and respect for our nation and its laws!   Not to mention his plea for Americans to honor the results, results that may virtually wipe out his legacy and all that he did to advance the causes of those who elected him, twice.  Could you have been so polite, so willing to put the nation ahead of your personal disappointment?  Has anyone ever in our political history?  It would be a great boon to unity if Fox News would relate this information to its audience.  Perhaps just that one nod to civility would help move the needle a bit towards understanding that it is OK for political and philosophical disagreements to exist, in fact preferable in a democracy, but not OK to demonize those on the other side and to promote the belief that there is only one right opinion.  We must respect those on the other side if we wish to convince them of our perspective.     

But the real point of this post was to discuss prejudice, and its insidious effect on our great country.

Clearly, racial bias, and xenophobia were factors in this election.  NOT THE DECIDING FACTOR HOWEVER.  Let me make that point clear, again.  Trump won the election because he won over middle America, hard working men and women who feel that the American dream has been stolen from them, and Trump promised them he would fix that problem.  Had the Democrats and Clinton learned that lesson from the success of Bernie Sanders primary challenge, we might have had a different result, but they assumed that Trump's negatives would win the day.  One might even say that they assumed that it was OK to discount middle America's angst, believing that Trump's forays into belittling virtually anyone not a white male, would force the voters to choose her as the lesser of two evils.  

And this is why we need to address our own Trumpness, so to speak.  We all exhibit bias, demean those we think we are better than.  Using terms like redneck and white trash to describe some Trump supporters is no different than those who would call our First Lady an ape in heels, or who stereotype all illegal immigrants as rapists and criminals.  

Be honest, if you found yourself walking at night in an unfamiliar area and saw 4 or 5 young men approaching, would your first instinct to cross the street?  Hold tight your purse?  Is it more or less the same if the young men have dark skin?  

If a business person, do you look more closely at the resume, or the tattoos or piercings the applicant may have?  

If you are in a public situation where you need to sit within a crowd, do you seek a seat next to someone more like yourself in race, gender or age? 

Prejudice is deep rooted, often the results of generations of biased thinking.  A child who listens at the lap of a white supremacist grandfather and father as they recount tales of suppressing the negro, will more easily develop a deep hatred of that race, just as a black child who hears tales from their family of the white slave owner who abused their ancestors and separated their families.   

This is where I may disagree with some Trump supporters, but, to me, the answer to reducing and someday eliminating prejudice is familiarity with those different from us.  Contact with them.  More diversity, not less.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when an older person visits their lifelong friend, and finds that friend's grand daughter helping around the house, a grand daughter with a tattoo on her forearm and a pierced nose.  Perhaps the thought that young people have different ways of expressing themselves but are still just young people making their way through the world might remind them of the fads of their youth and how they were looked at askance by their elders.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when a gay marriage opponent finds herself stranded along the road, waiting for AAA, when she is helped by a friendly lesbian couple who change her tire and share their hot beverage to warm her.   Perhaps the thought that those young woman were not unlike her when she was young, hoping to find love and happiness.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when a left leaning progressive comes home to find his young child playing with the new kid in school who just moved from there from Mississippi, and when he takes the child home is invited in for a cold glass of lemonade.  Perhaps the thought that these new neighbors are probably as scared and unsure as he would be should he move to a new town, and how much a helping hand would mean as opposed to a stereotyped judgement.

We are a divided nation.  One might even say that some of that divisiveness still echoes from the Civil War.  But we are also known by the inscription on the Statue of Liberty which says 

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"     

It is why so many people risk life and limb to travel from Central America and Mexico to live and work here.  Why the newest wave of immigrants from the war torn countries of the Middle East have streamed into Europe and wish asylum in America as well.

Like those who sent opinion letters to their papers decrying the influx of the Irish, Italian, Polish and other European nations during the early 20th century, we find ourselves, children of those same immigrants, fearful that our country is changing, and that our culture will be altered by these new immigrants.  It is natural to feel that, and so understandable that so many people responded to Trump's call for restrictions, were ready to blame our problems on these newcomers.  And yes, perhaps some are over the top racists, but most are everyday Americans who want to provide shelter and security for their families and the opportunity for the same in the future.

Let's acknowledge our prejudices.  Confront our fears but in an inclusive way, with the knowledge that the problems will not be solved unless we involve everyone on both sides of the debate.   And let's understand that if we see unappealing traits in President elect Trump, we can best address those faults by turning that gaze within and rooting out those same traits in ourselves. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Congratulations to Donald Trump

Congratulations to the next president of the United States, Donald Trump.  His unconventional campaign, his reluctance to ignore the advice of seasoned political advisers, his speeches in which the normal filter for political correctness, and perhaps even basic politeness and civility, and virtually every part of his overall strategy, all of which he orchestrated on his own terms, proved successful.  I have tried not to read too much analysis, summary and postmortem articles about the results, so if you have already read this next comment, I apologize for repeating it, but, as Frank Sinatra so beautifully sang, Trump can now proclaim that "I did it my way".

I tuned in to the election results around 9:30 last night.  At that point, Trump had already been declared the winner in numerous states across the south and middle parts of the country and was leading in the electoral college.  Despite this, the commentators on the PBS channel I was watching, still spoke of Hillary Clinton's path to electoral victory.  Slowly, as the night progressed and the races in the pivotal rust belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin began moving towards Trump, preceded by his declared victories in Florida and North Carolina, it was easy to sense that the mood of the moderators was shifting.  Surprise, shock, disbelief, while not overly obvious, certainly began to seep into their words and expressions.  Despite the temporary lead that Clinton gained around 11:00 when polls closed on the west coast and she was declared the winner in California and Washington, it wasn't long before the numbers in those states detailed above began to turn towards Trump.  Between midnight and 1:00 AM, there was a clear path for Trump to win, while Clinton had to sweep the remaining states that had not been called, a prospect not likely.  In the meantime, the belief that the Senate may turn to the DEMS, was squashed as key races were won by incumbent GOP candidates.   I don't remember what time it was precisely, but by 2:00 AM, a Trump victory was inevitable, the Clinton campaign announced to her supporters that they should go home from the hotel where they had gathered to celebrate the election of the first woman president, and the commentators began discussing how the polls could have been so wrong.

I stayed awake for Trump's victory speech.  It was well done.  He thanked his family and supporters, acknowledged the concession phone call from Hillary Clinton, thanked her a hard fought campaign and her decades of service in government, and spoke very clearly of reaching out to all Americans, those who voted for him as well as those who did not, so as to unify our great country.  He was gracious in his acceptance of the victory, the nature of the historical nature of his election, and perhaps even the gravity of what he had accomplished, and what the American people now expected him to do to prove to them that they made the right choice.

So, as will be analyzed to death for the next few months, why did Trump win?  And, more importantly, how did the GOP, a party as fractured as there ever was, not only secure the White House, but maintained its historic advantage in the House and hold on to its majority in the Senate?

I wonder if the polls, perhaps biased as Trump and his supporters have claimed, actually helped Trump and hurt Clinton.  While his remained energized, able to rally around the thought that they weren't being represented properly by the elite media, hers may have become complacent in the thought that she was going to win, that she couldn't possible lose to Trump.  The numbers I heard during the evening's coverage suggested that both candidates won the demographics they were expected to win, but not necessarily by margins expected.  In the end, and perhaps, despite winning the popular vote (she is currently ahead as of this writing), Clinton did not connect with the Obama coalition that propelled him to the presidency in 2008.

What surprises me the most, was not that white male voters chose Trump overwhelmingly, or that Clinton won virtually all minority and women demographics, but that, as of this post, neither garnered as many votes as Romney did in losing the 2012 election.  Based on the intensity of this election, I was hoping that we might surpass the turnout of the past two presidential elections, but instead we will fall far short of the 130 million and 125 million votes cast in the 2008 and 2012 elections respectively.  We may just surpass a 50% turnout rate, a far cry from the 58+% in 2008.  In essence, Trump will be our next president having been chosen by half of those voting who are themselves, half of those eligible to vote, who are themselves about 68% of the population.  In other words, the roughly 60 million people who voted for Trump represent the views of 17% of our country's 350 million people population.  This is not to belittle his accomplishment, the same would have been true if Clinton had won.  It seems more an indictment of our electorate, and its reluctance to participate in such an important election and the overall complacency of the voting public.  Not since 1968 has even 60% of eligible voters made their way to the polls although we have at least surpassed our all recent history all time low of 49% in the 1996 election.  

If not enough people participating may have led to Clinton's loss, perhaps the presence of the protest vote for the Green and Libertarian candidates also contributed.  While one may argue that some of the Libertarian vote may have been cast by disaffected Republicans, it seems more likely that, since Trump represented the change or protest vote so dramatically, a larger portion of the Libertarian vote, as well as the vast majority of the Green party vote were Democrats who did not connect with Clinton.  Looking at the breakdown of votes for Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the math suggest that these protest votes, had they gone to Clinton, would have shifted 46 electoral college votes to her resulting in a 274 to 244 win, that is how close the popular vote was in those 3 states.

As I mentioned in a few previous posts, there may also have been some gender bias at work.  At one point, I heard that male African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, while supporting Clinton in the majority, did not do so as significantly as they did for Obama.  Perhaps there were enough males of those backgrounds that were able to more easily overlook Trump's shortcomings, perhaps chalking them up to a locker room mentality or the boys will be boys excuse, simply because they were uncomfortable with being led by a woman.

It will take me a while to wrap my head around the phrase President Donald Trump.  But I hope that in the name of unity and for the good of America, those of us who did not vote for him will be able to give him the benefit of the doubt.  His demeanor last night was certainly more presidential than I have seen in the past.  And there are a number of areas of agreement that can be addressed right away before our differences are explored.  I hope his supporters can also put aside our differences, forget about the vengeful talk of continued criminal investigations into the Clintons, and work together to rebuild our infrastructure, address the physical and mental needs of our veterans, encourage corporations to honor America as opposed to their profit margin, and reduce or remove the vast amounts of money that have been allowed to influence our election process.  

In the meantime, I stay, as always, hopeful that humanity in general, and Americans in particular, will continue to evolve spiritually, continue to strive for goodness, to treat others as they wish to be treated, and to forgive rather than to seek vengeance.   

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Protecting Our Governmental Institutions

I have mentioned in past posts that I watch Bill Maher's HBO show, Real Time.  Often he has mentioned his desire to get President Obama on the show, and last week he announced that he had finally achieved that goal, although the appearance was taped, not live.  Along with as large an audience in eight years, I tuned in for the show last might.

To be honest, I found the interview to be just OK.  I think that part of the appeal of Maher's show is that it is live, and it seemed that something was missing in his performance.  Perhaps his constraint was due to his respect for the President.  I expect that next year. Maher will be able to book Obama on his panel and it will be more entertaining.

I mention this only as a segue into what I thought a very interesting conversation on Real Time after the Obama interview.  David Frum, a frequent panel member on Maher's HBO show, generally represents the opposing viewpoint to the show's tone and perspective.  He is an ex speech writer for the Bush Administration, and is typically portrayed as a neoconservative.  While Maher has had him on the show many times in the past, it should come as no surprise that he booked him on the last show before the election as Frum has publicly stated that he voted for Hillary Clinton.  If you are interested in Frum's writings, he is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and is an often published op ed writer.  In some ways, one might say that he is in the minority in terms of oft read op ed writers, in that he is rational, logical, and civil in his discussions and his work.  His continued popularity encourages me to think that there is still a place for reasoned debate among those with whom you may disagree, without the obvious bias and vitriol that marks so many media outlets that pretend to be news organizations.

Anyway, Frum's problem with today's political discourse, a problem that he lays squarely on the extreme elements of both parties, is the attacks on the institutions of government.  His essay called the Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy is a must read if you are interested in some insight on why the American electorate in general, and the Republican party specifically, have accepted the rhetoric of Donald Trump.  

Frum's perspective points to the popularity of both Trump and Bernie Sanders as proof that both parties are at fault in the breakdown of the base protections that preserve our democracy.  Each plays on the fear of Big Government, the insider culture that rewards big donors while marginalizing the needs of the american working class, and the belief that "they are all crooks".  The problem is that the failures of those we elect to govern us are not the fault of the institutions of democracy, but the fault of we, the electorate who continue to be bamboozled by politicians who promise us that we can eat our cake and have it too, and the party establishments, both DEM and GOP, who have long ago passed from country first, in support of policies and laws that help the most, to party first, in support of candidates who share their political affiliation regardless of whether their ideas or plans for governing are good for the country.

Frum quotes statistics that demonstrate that the electorate has often chosen one party for the executive branch, another for the legislative.  Yes, some of that is due to the extreme gerrymandering that exists in the drawing of legislative districts, but it also points to an understanding that it may not be wise for one party to control all three branches of government, that such control can only lead to abuse.  It is why our founders created such a wonderful governmental structure, why so many other countries exhibit such unstable governments, and why, believe it or not, a strong government is one of the cornerstones to prosperity.  But strong in the maintenance of the structure, not strong by having an autocrat or dictator in charge.  Hillary Clinton clearly understands the importance of the branches of government working together to create compromise policies that improve the lives of most people. There is no such thing as a perfect law, a perfect trade agreement, a perfect treaty, where perfect means your side achieved all its goals and the other got shafted.  (Of course, one could site most of the treaties between the US Government and the Indian nations as perfect, unless you were an American Indian).

Donald Trump is clearly running for king of America, and a large percentage of his supporters are making the gigantic mistake of thinking that once he is king, he will pervert our democracy and change everything to favor them.  The left, progressive influence will be ignored, perhaps even put in jail, and all will be right with the world again.  And, I guess as a white male, I should be happy since Trump's vision of "great again" hearkens back to a time when minorities, women, those with different religious, social or cultural beliefs, were kept in their rightful place.  Sadly, as is always the case with absolute power, the country will suffer and those who readily voted for a candidate who has no respect for American democracy (has he said the word rigged a hundred times yet?), no respect for the rights of others who disagree with him, no respect for anyone or anything that doesn't lend itself to praise for Donald Trump, might be surprised when their needs, livable wages, health care insurance, property rights protections that conflict with a business concern, rights for their daughters and granddaughters to make choices about their bodies, are brushed aside with the same ease that they cheer when Trump talks about banning Muslims.

A divided government by its nature leads to conflict.  But the conflict should be about the best way to achieve prosperity, safety, and opportunity.   And, since both sides truly believe their perspective to be the correct path, since both sides include patriots, then the debates should focus on actual proposals, and actual accomplishments.  As Frum rightly points out, Trump has presented very little in the way of concrete plans, using trite phrases like "trust me".   Since the Affordable Care Act is so unpopular among the GOP, despite that fact that many of them now have health care insurance, and/or obtain their health insurance through Medicare and Medicaid, programs that the GOP often target as Big Government intervention in our lives, Trump declares he will repeal it.  When asked what he will replace it with, he says, "something terrific", and the cheers resound.  Will that terrific plan allow young adults to stay on their parent's insurance?  Continue to provide health exchanges for those who cannot get insurance from their employers?  Maintain the ban on rejecting people with pre-existing conditions from being automatically rejected?  Continue the no lifetime cap on insurance payments for the really sick among us?

The truly amazing thing, the sheer brilliance of Donald Trump is that he has convinced millions of people that everyone in Washington is an elite snob who only cares about diverting tax payer and big donor money into their own pockets, and that the government itself, those who run our military, sit on the Supreme Court, meet in Congress to consider and pass laws, enforce the regulations that protect our water and air from pollution, discuss ways to improve education, all of them, know less about what they do than he does.  The fact that he was born rich, has lived the life of those with a golden spoon, uses his failures as a businessman to avoid paying taxes, and exhibits very little knowledge or interest in understanding the complexities of our government and democracy somehow makes him more attractive, not less.

As Frum points out, the guardrails that protect our institutions have been broken through. Unfortunately, too many Americans are cheering that breakdown, unaware of how important those protections are, unaware that their reluctance to appreciate and understand how government works will lead to a government run by someone who does not have the capacity to make it work for them.      


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A local Murder

Last weekend, a young man was murdered in a park in my small town.  The park has a baseball field where the local high school and churches play their league games.  It has a small pool for infants and toddlers, a playground with about 6 or 8 pieces of play equipment, and a tennis court with 4 playing areas, and a basketball court with 4 hoops.  Besides the play areas, the a pathway in the park accesses directly to the walking paths that connect one end of town with the other.  Currently, I walk my dog there; in the past I frequently took my children there to play on the swings.  Obviously, my town is experiencing some shock and disbelief concerning this tragic event.

The details of the killing, as are known to me today, involve 3 teenage boys plotting to rob a drug dealer.  They stole two guns from the home of one of the boys, and set up a drug buy at the park where they attempted to rob the victim at gunpoint.  At first, the young man drove away from the boys, but then he emerged from his car to confront them.  At this point, one of the boys fired at the victim, striking him in the chest which proved to be a fatal wound.

Before starting this post, I read the local newspaper account so as to present the facts as they are known.  I also checked the comments which had been posted after the news story to get a feel for my community's reaction.  Unfortunately, there weren't many comments, only 4.

The first one described the boys as scum and wished them a long life in prison.

The second thought them heroes for killing a drug dealer, wanted to name them honorary policemen, and hoped they would be freed using a self defense plea and so be able to kill other drug dealers.

The third comment asked for sympathy for all parties with a version of the quote "there but for the grace of God go thee".  The fourth comment agreed with the third by praising her empathy.

Additionally, I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance, who told me that had the victim been his grandchild, he would make sure that the case never went to trial, presumably meaning that he would kill the boy as revenge.

So, where do we go from here.

The motives of the boys is not fully known.  Were they interested in the money only, figuring a drug dealer wouldn't contact the police if robbed, or did they believe they were acting as some sort of vigilantes, ridding their community of a drug dealer?  The boys are 15 and 16 years old, so I tend to think their motivations were mostly material, but I certainly do not know for sure but there is also the question of how they knew who to call for the drugs, i.e were they in the habit of buying drugs, which may have inspired their plot.

As a 16 year old, it is possible that he could have known where his parents stored their guns, and even the key if they were locked up safely, but I imagine that there are many people in my community who feel that the parents may be partially at fault.  My sentiments on the ease in which guns can be acquired are no secret, but I also acknowledge that a significant percentage of gun owners are responsible.  If it turns out that this is untrue in this case, I imagine that the community will continue to be in turmoil through both the murder trial (if there is not a plea bargain) and the inevitable civil trial that will follow.  Perhaps the parents did lock their guns, and bullets in separate places but failed to maintain the secret location of the key.  Perhaps the boy had handled the guns in the past so they thought it safe to be less vigilant because he could be trusted.  As the details have been related so far, the boy whose parents owned the guns was not one of the shooters but, allegedly fled the scene before the shooting took place.  

And, of course, the victim who was certainly a victim in that he did not deserve to die just because he was selling drugs, was not completely a victim, as he was involved in an illegal activity.  Plus, the current story surrounding the details of the murder paint him as a possible aggressor, although we will never know his side of the story since he is dead.  I would hope that the details as presented by the boys in custody can be confirmed by an independent witness, and not taken as gospel.  Had the victim been arrested before on drug charges?  Or was this a relatively new way for him to make some money?  For those who might say, what does it matter, one strike or three, do you apply the same standards to your self, your spouse, your presidential candidate?  

Turning to the comments, small sample as it is, I can't help but relate it to virtually all the important topics under debate today, in that each extreme response is represented.  While a middle ground is also noted, and even confirmed, I don't think I would be going out on a limb when I suggest that it will be the two extreme responses that will be repeated more often, agreed to or defended depending on the perspective of the voices being heard.  Those are the responses that make for good TV and radio and internet postings, whereas the calls for sympathy, reasoning, and a more full understanding of the facts and the people involved will most likely be ignored.  I imagine, and have heard a few people state it, that the preliminary hearing for the boys will be very tense, very charged, and very covered by those who only see a story without seeing the people or the community involved in that story.

America, and Americans, may represent one of the greatest paradoxes of mankind's history.  We are generous to a fault, donating billions of dollars to everything from kids in far away countries to abused animals to the victims of natural and man made disasters.  Yet we continue to send convicted citizens to death row, talk of torturing both our enemies and their families, use unmanned drones to kill the guilty and innocent alike via bombs from above, and seek revenge whenever we feel slighted.

The truly sad thing about this murder, is that the details will be lost in the controversy that surrounds and permeates our national discussions about crime, drugs, gun control, violence.  We may never know why those boys thought that a few hundred dollars from a drug dealer was worth his life or why their victim turned his back on legitimate work to sell drugs or why the parents of the young man in jail thought a gun would protect them, and from whom they sought protection.  
I saw the end of the movie Starman yesterday.  We are described as an interesting species by the alien visitor in that we are at our best under the worst of conditions.  Yet, incidents like this murder, and the knee jerk, extreme responses that it evokes, makes me wonder.  Despite the tag line of the GOP presidential nominee, America is great, right now.  We have the resources, both intellectual and monetary, that, were they properly focused, could solve most of our problems, if the goal was to actually solve them, and not be able to take credit for the solutions so as to enhance one's bank account or further one's political career.  But, like the alcoholic or drug addict, the first step is admitting a problem which can never happen as long as it is easier and more lucrative to blame "others".

Thursday, October 27, 2016


My Norway audience has disappeared as suddenly as it emerged.  For about 2 years, I have been receiving more "hits" from people in Norway than all other countries combined, including the United States.  Had the trend continued, in another year or so, views from Norway would have exceeded views from America for the life of my blog.  However, beginning about 2 weeks ago, those page views stopped.  For now, thanks to those who checked into my posts from Norway these past few years.  Feel free to stop by again.

As we near the end of this tortuously long, painful to the ear and soul, presidential election, there is a hint of anarchy in the air.  Of course, this anarchy was not just created by the emergence of Donald Trump.  Survivalists have long been a staple of the American belief in individualism.  One might even say that people leaving the relative safety of established society to find new homes and forge new ways of life, led to the founding of America via those who left Europe for the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries, continued through the westward expansion of our country by the pioneers of the 19th century, and then accentuated by the mass migrations to America in the early 20th century.

One might say without much debate, that America represents the ideal that anyone can create a new identity, a new reality for themselves and their family.  Yet, even with that ideal, there are those who reject societal norms and seek their freedom in ways outside the standards that most of us consider the essence of America.  The American Dream of a nice house with a picket fence, a loving spouse and two adorable children, a job for life followed by one's golden years surrounded by family and friends, is not everyone's dream.

The election of the first African American President, along with the continued influence of government on the lives of Americans, especially in the areas of gun control, immigration and health care, galvanized many survivalists to move from a "leave me alone" attitude to one more akin to "we must reclaim our freedoms".  Ironically, many of the early survivalists were consider environmental nuts who eschewed modern progress in favor of a life in tune with nature.  They fought to keep meadows from becoming malls, and to keep the natural beauty of America's landscape from being pulverized in the name of profit and consumerism.  Now, it seems that those who prefer to live apart from society, form militias, stock up on guns as well as water, and seem almost giddy with the idea that the breakdown of society is coming.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."  

It is a favorite quote of those who advocate anarchy in the name of true freedom, the words of Thomas Jefferson.  Of course, like most quotes from our founders, Jefferson's words are not always analyzed in the context of when he said them, and about what event.  Whether you fall on the side that Jefferson was advocating a little rebellion now and again to keep our leaders focused on their true job as public servants, or believe that Jefferson understood questioning our leaders but that armed insurrection against the government was treason, and that the founders' creation of the three branches of government to provide checks and balances was the best way to provide leadership that remained true to the spirit of the American experiment in democracy, the tree of liberty grows in many ways and requires many forms of nourishment.

Vigilantism is easy to glorify when we see the righteous defeat evil in movies.  Everything is black and white there, we know from the start who is the good guy and who is not.  And, even though the actions of the vigilante more often than not falls outside the law, we celebrate their victory over the forces of evil knowing that had the law be able to prosecute the offenders, they would have done so with justice befitting the crimes.  Of course, we only like it when its perspective matches our own.

But, while vigilantism is local in its effect, anarchy penetrates society as a whole.  Anarchy sets neighbor against neighbor, family against family.  Even to this day, defenders of the South in their rebellion against the government of the United States thought their treason a defense against an intrusive government trampling the rights of those in the South.  You see it in the Confederate flag waving in some state capitals to this day.

I see people with "support the police" signs on their lawns.  Do they not realize that the police, local, state and federal, will be the force called to suppress armed rebellions?  That those very same men and women will be the targets in the cross hairs of the guns when anarchy rules the day?  Will they then be supported of the police or will they be the ones aiming the guns?

Anarchy is an ugly response to unhappiness with the leaders of a country which elects its public servants through open elections.  We are not a third world country where military coups occur every generation.  We are not a country governed by a strong armed dictator who kills his opponents.  We are not a country with predetermined elections where everyone votes for the same person.

Anarchy can bring an economic collapse, disruptions of the monetary system as well as the distribution of food and medicine.  Anarchy will not bring the changes we need to improve our democracy, but more likely bring a consolidation of power for those already in place, marshal law, and a crackdown on anyone who questions the government let alone has stockpiles of guns and ammunition.  Anarchy will expose America to foreign intrusions, economic as well as military.

Our democracy is certainly in trouble.  Too much influence is wielded by those with the money to buy favors and alter laws and policies.  While many voters have demonstrated great passion during this election cycle, too many others are complacent about their right to vote, and will choose not to make a choice, informed or otherwise, claiming their vote doesn't matter.

The survival of our democracy is not dependent on denying the integrity of our elections, vigilantism or anarchy, but is certainly in critical need of an educated electorate who understands how our democracy works, how the huge diversity of ideas and solutions must be melded into a comprehensive package that does the most good for the most people, and how compromise works to advance the goals of all parties when each achieves a portion of their goals while acknowledging that the other side also needs to feel the same way, and has a legitimate right to do so.

Anarchy is bad for America, and therefore is not the option a true patriot would espouse.


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.