Saturday, January 21, 2017

President Trump

I was set to sit down after this Shabbat and write about the incredible nature of our country in that yesterday we watched the peaceful transition of power from one highly popular leader to a less than popular leader of a different party.  Today about 1 million people, mostly women, around the country marched to stand against the perceived dangers posed by President Trump to rights.  But I can't help but pivot to the fact that this afternoon the new President stood in front of the Memorial Wall at the CIA and attacked the media for reporting what he said about the intelligence community and complained that the media lied about the numbers at his swearing in. Seriously, he used dead CIA agents as a backdrop to attack the media.  It was like pissing on their graves.  

Then Sean Spicer, his press secretary, walked into the White House briefing room, and again said that the media lied about the numbers at the inauguration.  Seriously, he said the pictures are wrong and that there is no way to know real numbers.  Then said it was the largest crowd ever, period.  That is simply not true. Not even close.  When President Obama was sworn in for the first time the crowd was incredibly larger and in fact every photo clearly shows this.  This is gaslighting coming from the Executive Branch of the United States of America.  This has brought both conservatives and liberals together suggesting that it is not nearly Presidential.

Is this what we are going to have to get used to?  Think about this, the President of the United States is whining about the size of his crowd and lying about it.  Lies that are easily checked.  This is a serious matter, the President and his people are making the media somehow the liars in this.  And the Trump voters will remember this and believe the lies of Trump and his team.  This is insane.

You don't have to believe what I believe, you could have voted for Trump, you could say the marches today around the world were stupid, but if you are going to argue that the crowds at the inauguration were the biggest of all time then you are a either a sheep of the Trump team or an idiot.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Term Limits are Not the Answer

US Senator Ted Cruz and House Representative Ron DeSantis proposed an amendment to the constitution, once again, creating term limits on members of both houses of Congress. This idea often gets traction because the idea that there should be no professional politicians and that in the past this didn't happen.  In fact there were members of the first Congress in 1789 who served more than 40 years.  The current incoming Congress has an average in the House of service of 9.4 years and the Senate is 10.1 years.  Less than 5 terms in the House and 2 terms in the Senate.  This is actually a slight uptick from the 114th Congress, and ends a string of declining averages over the last several election cycles.  While many incumbents who run get re-elected at an alarming rate, and the number who run again and again is up significantly there still is an ongoing turnover that takes place every election cycle.  This year there are about 55 new members of the House or about 12% which is about average for turnover in most industries.  The problem that we see is that there are people in the Congress that many people don't like and yet they get re-elected over and over again. But I would argue that whether it is a Congressional district or a Senator in a state I don't live it, it should not be up to me to decide who cannot represent the people who do live there.  But there are two major problem that come up with how the system works that makes beating an incumbent who wants to hold onto a seat difficult.  

The first is simple gerrymandering.  Gerrymandering is a old concept that dates back to 1812 and redistricting in Massachusetts by then Governor Elbridge Gerry.  A political cartoon likened the shape of a state district to a salamander and called it a Gerry-mander.  The name stuck. Today both parties have worked to draw bizarrely shaped districts to encompass pockets of party loyal constituents.  In recent years the rise of local Republican parties in many states have led to some bullet proof districts for both parties, also the concentration of parties into a handful of places in any state leads to states like Virginia which cast many more votes for Democratic candidates but still the Republicans won a majority of the seats.  There have been times when the opposite has occurred.  Gerrymandering is a political perk of winning at the state level and is difficult to attack in court.  There are times that it has been challenged and things have changed but it is not an easy task.  North Carolina is facing a challenge right now, but the problem has existed for several election cycles.  In 2010, under boundaries drawn by Democrats, Republicans won 54 percent of the congressional vote but ended up with one fewer member of Congress than Democrats. By 2012, new districts drawn by Republicans flipped the numbers and while more than 2 million votes for Congress were cast for the Democratic candidates the results was a delegation made up of 9 Republicans and 4 Democrats.  This party specific district drawing will lead to the party's choice becoming the the winner before the actual election and in about 7% of the Congressional elections there are unopposed candidates.  When the election is set it is harder to challenge someone and often results in more hardcore elected officials.  

The other problem is laziness.  We have term limits and they are called elections.  If we truly wanted to drain the swamp or throw the bums out, a phrase we often hear, we would vote.  But alas we don't.  In the 2016 election less than 60% of the country's eligible voters voted and in the off year of 2014 when our Congressional representatives were all up for re-election and a third of the Senate only 36% of the those eligible voted. Someone tried to argue with me we need term limits because in Kentucky Mitch McConnell was re-elected but no one in Kentucky likes him.  He won with 56% of the vote in 2014.  However, while his approval rating was low he led every poll in his primary (which had 5 other candidates) and won the general.  The problem of the 3.5 million registered voters in Kentucky that year, only 1.4 million bothered to cast a ballot.  So people seem to dislike him but not enough to go and actually vote.  

There are clearly other reasons that incumbency is beneficial.  There is power of the office to reach constituents through media and the use of office to inform people what you are doing for them in Washington.  Money that comes into the campaigns from lobbyists as tenure gives one more power in crafting legislation.  I could probably list dozens of things.  But none of those would be solved in any real way by term limits.  The only thing the term limit would do is shift the power to lobbyists and bureaucrats who will remain and centralize their power when a congressional member leaves town.  So what can we do.  

For one end political redistricting.  Use computer algorithms to determine districts based on population and geography connectivity.  There are plenty of places in the country that have community symbiosis that should be represented by the same person.  After that just carve out based on the number of people living there.  A district shouldn't swirl around, geographically speaking, four other districts so that it creates a population that benefits one party while at the same time breaking up other populations in several districts that would vote for the opposing party.  This is happening today.  

Also there has to be a way to get more people involved in the elections. In recent years Republicans have passed laws that make it harder to vote in many places, often targeting Democratic areas.  Voter ID laws that are clearly designed to stop certain groups from voting are passed under the guise of stopping voter fraud. A fraud that doesn't exist.  We should be making it easier to vote than harder.  We should be making the act of voting not a nuisance but something to celebrate.  Who voted are part of public records, maybe there can be a fine for not voting without an excuse.  

We are living in the greatest Western Democracy, (yes I know we are a Republic so before you say it google the term Western Democracy) on paper and one that functionally is off the rails.  When about half of those people who can vote don't and when a majority of voters want one kind of candidate and yet get another, then something is wrong.  Very wrong.  

Perhaps this election will be an eye opener.  As the new President takes office in 12 days we all must look at ourselves and seek an answer to Washington failures but Term Limits on Congress are not the answer and frankly are not an answer.  It is up to us to be more engaged and engage our friends.  The Constitution limits the scope of government and gives much power to the people.  The most important one is the right to choose who is going to create the rules we live by and within the Constitution move the country forward on a domestic level and as a world power.  When we don't vote, when we allow political wonks to decide the choices we have then we fail.  If the Michigan 13th wants to continue to make John Conyers the longest serving member that is none of my business.  If they create a way to make opposing him improbable than it is.  If Kentucky wants Mitch McConnell to serve as their Senator for the next 3 terms, mazel tov, but if they don't and yet won't vote him they deserve him.  We can't decide for other people who they want to hire to be their voice in Washington.  So let's give them other voices to choose from.  Be informed, inform others, challenge the way districts are drawn, question where the money comes from to help incumbents run and in the end, Vote.  Vote in primaries and vote in general elections.  Vote the off years and in special elections.  Vote every time you can. Ask elected officials to make voting easier.  Early voting, mail, and eventually internet voting all have to become part of our experience with the process.  Hold media accountable when they decide to ignore candidates for whatever reason or promote one over others because he is entertaining.  Be part of the process.  

Term limits are a bad idea because the solve nothing except to make it easier for us to be lazy.  Let's stop being lazy and make some real change.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Stand by the 1st....even if it hurts

This past week had a day that celebrates the Bill of Rights.  The original first 10 amendments to the Constitution that limits the role of government to control our lives.  Also during this week the 1st of those amendments took a beating in the Indianapolis area.  I wrote about Knightstown, the ACLU was approached by a resident who felt that a cross on the tree in the town square was a violation of the prohibition of government from picking one religion over another.  The town took the flag down to avoid a lawsuit that they would certainly lose.  The reaction was swift and in many cases epic in its ignorance.  One comment I heard was that the majority of people wanted the government to promote Christianity so the minority should be quiet.  The point of the Bill of Rights is that we don’t vote on them.  The rights are there to protect us all.  In this case, the town has trouble seeing the danger of allowing governments to promote a faith tradition.  But what is worse is the concept of our rights can be at the whim of the majority.  When the founders decided what kind of government they wanted they made a point of leaving God out of it.  At a time when the very language of daily discourse included references to God the Constitution is devoid of religious references.  Their brilliance has kept us from falling into problems that we have seen in many other countries that try to balance religion and civic culture.  When any sin is also a crime against the state and any crime is an affront to God we lose a great deal of freedom.  Knightstown is a place where many see the cross as a symbol of hope, but that is not enough.  Government should not be in the business of religion.  So while the Knightstown decision was a victory of the 1st amendment, I fear many people, including a local editorial cartoonist, doesn’t understand and that is sad and scary.
But the 1st also seemed to lose a battle this week.  In Carmel High School an Anti-Abortion poster was put up by a student group.  The poster, seen below, was simple to understand and the poster fairly unobtrusive as far as anti-abortion posters can go.  The school took the poster down, for no reason other than it offended someone.  Now schools have some ability to limit what can be on the walls, this is not at issue.  If a student group follows the rules and gets the right permission then the message itself should not be disqualifying because some people don’t like the message itself.  In fact the 1st amendment MUST be defended for those whom we disagree with.  I am pro-choice and have harsh criticism for many in the so-called pro-life movement.  However it troubles me greatly that a school would suppress an opinion because some people don’t like it.  There is case law on this.  Students can have opinions and student groups can promote those opinions within the structure of acceptable behavior but the school cannot squash ideas because they don’t like them.  Carmel High School is attacking these students’ rights.  Schools should be a market place of ideas and this should be a teachable moment.  I think the students were making a strong statement in a forum that other groups have done the same thing.  They weren’t being offensive, even if they were slightly provocative.  But I can’t see how this poster rose to the level that it was disruptive to the education process nor was it in any way that I can see offensive. 
It is clear to me that the 1st amendment was never meant to protect only what we believe or are comfortable with but exactly those things we don’t agree with nor are happy about.  I find the message of the poster simplistic, I am staunchly pro-choice, but I think the school needs to allow these kinds of messages to be part of the tapestry of opinions that are allowed to grace the same walls.  The school, as an agent of the government, must have a compelling reason to stop a student’s voice.  This poster doesn’t seem to have a reason I can find.  I hope we can all see that these students should be allowed to voice their opinion and that if we want to challenge it the school should be a place they can do so in a safe and fair environment. 

The 1st amendment is a treasure in many ways, we can’t let it be chipped away.  Not for the sake of the majority nor that we don’t like the message being expressed.  When the Nazis marched in Skokie is was not a victory for them, it was a victory for all of us.  To have stopped them would have given value to their ideology.  Freedom is hard.  It means we have a diversity of culture and thought.  That is what makes our country strong.  Let’s remember what the founder’s dreams were and stand with me to defend the Constitution and acknowledge that we will encounter ideas, thoughts, phrases that make us uncomfortable.  Here is the secret, my voice and your voice make someone uncomfortable too.  I would rather be uncomfortable at times then to be silenced.  I think you do too. 

This is the poster in question from Carmel High School.  What do you think?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why The ACLU is Right.

In a small town about one hour from Indianapolis, the city is removing a cross from their Christmas tree in the town center.  The cross stood atop the tree in Knightstown IN until a local resident questioned its legality and engaged the ACLU to file a suit.   The city, in its wisdom, realized that the cross violated the 1st amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court and removed the cross, stating they couldn't win.  Of course a wave of people attacked the ACLU as anti-Christian suggesting they should leave Christmas alone.  This is a common tome coming from people who think their rights are being violated if they can't have their government support their religious view.  But the 1st amendment is there to protect us all.  The ACLU has been a champion for that protection since its beginning.  They want to hold the government accountable to the limits placed on it by the Constitution.  While the cross might seem innocent it makes a statement of the government is choosing to elevate a single faith tradition over another.  That is what the court and the founders both were worried about.  It isn't that the cross if offensive it is more about the fact that it is picking the life choices of some citizens over another when it comes to faith.  Some people are worried that if we take the cross off the tree that the next thing will be taking them off churches.  That is not a good argument as the ACLU would fight FOR the churches in that situation.  What is more likely is that the more we allow the government to support a single religion the more likely they will discriminate against another.  We have seen it in the past and thankfully we are more aware of the diversity that has been part of our country from the beginning.  To point out that the ACLU will fight for religious rights for Christians (one of the accusations was that the ACLU is anti-Christian remember) you can look here and pick any of the cases where the ACLU championed Christian rights

In the case of Knightstown the majority of people there want the cross, but the Constitution is not concerned with the majority.  Just like communities that have a majority of people who would ban guns, the Constitution stops them because the founders felt freedoms were more important that the opinions of a group of people.  Rights are not up for a vote.  But the people of Knightstown do have a response that is both powerful and legal.  They are putting crosses on their lawns and windows.  Where they should be.  No one is stopping the people from celebrating their important holiday but the government should be free of choosing a religion to elevate and that is good for all of us.

Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Not a Monkey

I love zoos and have visited many.  My favorite thing about zoos is often not the animals but the people who visit them.  You see, for some reason, people think they know what they are talking about when it comes to the animals at the zoo.  The is a zoo I visited with a central exhibit of gibbons who would swing through the branches.  Signage around the exhibit was labeled clearly in tall letters:  It's NOT A MONKEY.  The sign went on to explain the difference between monkeys and lesser apes.  At least 10 people approached the exhibit, stood near this sign, and said to their children or friends, "look at the monkey".   For the rest of the day "It's not a monkey" became a code phrase.  But that is not the worst thing I have seen.  I once took a class that one project was to visit the Baboon enclosure at the zoo in Syracuse.  A large room with a variety of baboons of various ages.  One time a woman came in with a few children, may have been a teacher.  She points to the large alpha male and says, "See he is the only boy and all the others are girls".  The problem, standing, facing the glass that this woman is viewing through, is a male, clear as day by biology.  A quick read of the sign in the room would explain what the make of of the troop is.  However she knew for sure what was going on so why bother to read.

This is what I fear we can look forward to in a Trump administration.  A few days ago, President-elect Donald Trump decided that it would be a good idea to call Taiwan.  Without talking to the State Department or apparently anyone who has had a mote of understanding of the United States China policy since the Reagan years, Trump rings up the new President of Taiwan.  Now one can be critical of our one China policy but for the man who will be President to breech protocol like that is a stunning thing.  He seemed to act like the people who didn't read the sign at the zoo, he thought he knew what he was doing.  Unlike the people at the zoo, the mistake is not without consequences.  If this was about ignorance, this is a dangerous ignorance.  What is even scary is that there are people close to him who are taking advantage of his ignorance and getting him to do things that meet their agenda, even if it puts US in danger.   The fallout from these kind of diplomatic blunders can have far reaching implications.  However, like him, many of his supporters don't care, in part because they don't understand the world of diplomacy.

One of the things that people say about why they voted for Trump was that he doesn't talk like a politician.  But they are the people who call baboons with penis girls.  But Trump is not only ignoring reality but he is trying to redefine it.  He would go up to the sign at the zoo and erase the NOT at the gibbon exhibit.  He simply lies when his is caught in some new idiocy and his people say things like "There is no such thing as facts".  When Trump was out marketing his name and running a reality show his detachment with reality was comedy and not important.  But now, everything he says or does has world-wide implications.  He has said so many things since the election that are troubling, including lying about the election he won and the Carrier deal that he can claim.  This is troubling.  Regardless of the Trump team's worldview, facts matter, a lot.  We aren't at the zoo, gibbons are not monkeys and the Presidency is not a game.  Can someone please tell Mr. Trump?   

Monday, November 28, 2016

Post Truth and the Death of Real Journalism

On Thanksgiving,  there was a story that made the rounds in social media and picked up by news sources that somehow a cable company had broadcast porn on the CNN channel on Thursday evening.  Twitter led to various other sources repeating it including CNN that blamed a local cable provider.  Days later it turns out that this was not true.  In fact it might have been one person's cable box.  But now we will hear stories of CNN broadcasting porn as fact moving forward.  Because today news is not about facts.  Journalists are more interested in repeating hot stories than they are about digging deeper and being accurate.  That is sad.

It isn't like this hasn't been an issue in the past.  We all remember the McDonald's coffee story where an elderly woman was severely burned and initially was given $2.7 million in damages.  What you don't hear is that the amount was reduced to under $700.000 and settled for a different amount. Other stories like Al Gore saying he invented the internet (he never said it) or colonies of alligators in the New York subways to go back even further.  But something is different now.  It seems like every day there is a lie that floats out, often from sources that are suspect at best or down right nonsensical and they are uncritically reported and promoted by others and picked up by news sources.  Today is not any different.  But in the past

Donald Trump has tweeted that there are millions of illegal votes for Sec. Clinton in the election and that is why she won the popular vote by 2 million votes.  The winner of the election for the Presidency of the United States, the most important and powerful job in the world, is saying the election was fraudulent even though he won. His source?  A website that questions things like whether we went to the moon in the 60s and 70s and calls all major attacks in recent year false flags. That is right, Trump is quoting a website that suggests that 9-11 was an inside job done by the government, that the Sandy Hook massacre was fiction.  Think about that, the President of the United States is finding his information from a site that makes up crazy conspiracy theories, while, oh by the way, he is not getting his daily intelligence briefing.

This is a serious issue but what we don't get a real investigative approach from the so-called journalists.  In fact what we get is discussions of Trump's tweets including a story and who actually types them and of course more recently the internal transition problems. Instead of questioning some of Trump's connections to the conspiracy nuts and the white nationalist movement, people are obsessing of Kelly Anne Conway's tweets about Mitt Romney being considered for Secretary of State.  We will now spend the day talking about Trump being angry at her for going rogue and just ignore the serious issues of a President-elect questioning reality and simply not learning the job he will take over in a month and a half.  In fact we are hearing that he doesn't understand how national security works, at all.  He honestly believes that what he hears on these websites are how things work.  Oh and by the way, he is turning his back on all his campaign rhetoric and basically turning the White House into a a money making effort for him and his family.  But Kelly Anne is speaking out of school so we have to talk about her.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Why Anti-Trump Protests Have to Stop

Last night in Indianapolis, dozens of people became violent in response to the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.  This started with a rally against the bigotry and hate that were hallmarks of his campaign and whose fruit we are starting to see around the country a jubilant Trump supporters have been emboldened to harass individuals, tag buildings and cars, and in some reports attack individuals.  The the rally in Indianapolis, like many other places, quickly turned violent as some, who may always been looking for a place to vent, went on a rampage.  This is not how democracy works, this is not voicing your opinion.  If you threw a rock at police you are no better than a person who spray paints Fag on a car with a IYG license plate or pulls the hijab off a Muslim woman.  You aren't making a political statement, you are committing a crime.

Civil disobedience in important.   I have been there.  In the anti-apartheid era I sat in a meeting were we were supposed to discuss educating the college administration about the horrors of South Africa's policies when someone suggested we start a fire in the administration building.  Even as a young angry liberal I thought that was insane.  And I believe that today.  Destroying property, hurting people with violence, threats or insults, or simply disrupting society in a way that puts lives in danger is not protesting.  And it will only weaken our arguments, and this is what is happening.  Vox Populi, Vox Dei the voice of the people is the voice of God, is very true and so is Est Impetus Diaboli Opus, rage is the devil's work.

As the GOP now controls both the House and Senate and the White House, the voice of the people must be heard loud and clear to hold our representatives to task.  They can't be heard over the shots of gun fire and breaking glass.  Real people are in danger today because of the vitriol unleashed in the wake of a campaign that got into a gutter, rooted around, and found a doorway to go deeper.  But there is no reason for anyone from the center left to the far far left to follow into that realm.  Oh we should defend ourselves but we should also stand up for what is right.

On Tuesday night the Democrats lost the White House and we can speak about why.  But the left in this country were actually winners.  Restrictions on medical and recreational marijuana have been lifted, increases in minimum wage pasted, there is the most diverse class of Democratic women entering the Senate and places in local elections tax increases were passed. The Democrats gain seats in both the House and the Senate and while some people are saying blue states are turning red, there is no real evidence of that.  In fact red states are showing signs of purpling (yes I made up a word) if you look at exit polling.   Oh and  it appears nearly 2 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump.  While for us that seems like the Rice-A-Roni consolation prize, it also was noticed by the GOP who sees that their hold on power in not a mandate and really only my a thread. If we act violently we will throw them a rope, a ladder and maybe even fix dinner for them.

We must stand strong and protest hate, bigotry and violence, if it comes from elected officials, government agencies or individual citizens.  But we must not become the violent bigots we profess to not want to have in our country.

Donald Trump is the President-elect.  He is our President.  We want him to be successful for the country.  But we also want him to stand up with the values that make this country great.  We cannot do that if we don't live by them either.  We should stop hosting rallies against the results of the election (even if we cloak them in rallies to stand against bigotry) and start being active.  They only create the incubator for the hate and violence we are beginning to see now. We must not be dismissed as our positions are shared by a majority of Americans.  The election is a snapshot, as is every election.   Many people chose not to vote in this election, many people chose to protest vote in this election.  You know who didn't, people who heard reasoned arguments in true support of a candidate.  Make 2018 our target to support, promote and elect people in House districts that share our values.  Make public statements against policies and actions we find violate the values of our country and human decency.  Argue with Trump supporters not from a position that they are dumb, racist or just hate filled but listen to what they feel and why a man like that could inspire them.  Even when the story you are told seems outside reality.  Reality is often a product of point of view.

If the voice of my side becomes the shouting, screaming, rock throwing, ignorant hate filled nastiness that I am seeing on TV then you have left me.  But I stand with my view of America where we all have the right to live our lives, be who we are and think as we do.  As long as we don't hurt someone else.  My responsibility to that is the hold election officials accountable for those values.  I know throwing a rock is easier, but if you are too lazy to fight for what is right, your arm will get tired soon enough.