Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Man vs Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Another 9/11 Anniversary

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

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

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

So, how to connect these thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

One last Look at Luck

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

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

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

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

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

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