Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The importance of dialog

Today, an interfaith service will be held for the 5 Dallas law enforcement officers who were tragically killed last week. Sadly, there is also news this morning about what may be the first "copy-cat" ambush of police subsequent to the Dallas incident - 5 men were arrested in Washington D.C. this morning after shooting at law enforcement who were responding to a report of shots fired. These incidents, combined with the citizens who are peacefully protesting nation-wide about extra-judicial killings, represent an extremely disturbing state of affairs. I truly do not feel it's an exaggeration to say that our police and our citizens are at war with each other. 

What's equally tragic is that this scenario is being reported on and discussed by so many people using the same dichotomous lens of false alternatives that America applies to so many issues we face today. It's A or B. You either blindly support everything the cops do, or if not then you clearly hate cops. You either understand the plight of the African American community in this, or you're a racist. We must reject this framework, and anyone who adopts it. 

Some people are already doing that, and we must celebrate them. I've seen David Brown, the Dallas police chief, articulate the complexities of this issue extremely well (here's just one example). He knows first hand - his son died after initiating a shoot out with police. I saw Congressman Elijah Cummings spell out the importance of dialog, compassion, and understanding very well in an interview with CBS. Congressman Cummings lives in downtown Baltimore, which has seen its own share of unrest related to this issue. Senator Marco Rubio has made some very articulate points about the valid concerns on both sides of this issue. We have to reject the urge view this as one side being right and the other side being wrong. Both sides are right in some respects and wrong in others, and there is a continuum of perspectives between the two sides that must also be part of the dialog. 

This issue is far more complicated than just police procedures, cop demographics, how to engage with citizens, how to de-escalate, but, in 2015, police killed 1146 people in the US. 50% of those had a gun. 20% were unarmed. 50 of those deaths occurred when the person was already in custody. 45 of the deaths were by Taser, 31 of them were run over by a cop car (1019 were killed when shot by police). These numbers are tracked by individuals and news organizations because, nationally "killed as a result of interaction with police" isn't something that police departments or the FBI tracks in any kind of consistent, reliable way. Some police departments do self-report statistics, others don't. There's a damn wiki-style site where you can submit a news article about a "killed by police" incident in your town and, once it's verified, it gets added to a public database. We're a country that tracks the number of people who died in car crashes, with and without their seat belts on, but we don't track the number of citizens whose lives were taken, rightly or wrongly, as a result of interaction with the cops. 

This is also about education, poverty, race, the war on drugs, the demands we place on our police officers, the gun culture, the "f- the police" culture, human biases, and I'm sure a dozen other things that I don't even know about. 

Progress on this issue will only come from dialog. If you're a police officer, or know one, now is the time to reach to someone who feels threatened by police, who feels he/she can't trust the police, and try to understand why. If you don't trust the police, or you think they're all racist and out to kill black people, you need to talk to a cop, because they're not. We have to stop painting all police officers and all African Americans as if they're uniform groups, because neither one is, at all. And we have to keep talking. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

So what happens now?

I tried to warn you people. While remaining a registered Republican, I have complained for years that the party is on the wrong track, that it has strayed from its founding principles. I voted for Barack Obama twice, and endured constant criticism for supporting him. This is not because I think he's an amazing president - I don't - but rather he's "above average and far better than McCain or Romney." He didn't propose that we build a wall with Mexico and make them pay for it. He didn't propose banning all Muslims from entering the US. He didn't pick Sarah Palin, an absolute moron, as his running mate. He didn't try to divide the country by characterizing anyone on public assistance as a "taker who feels entitled." He has tried to end Bush's endless wars and his unjust, indefinite detentions and torture scheme. Those unfunded wars are a bigger impact on our national budget than all the food stamp programs that modern Republicans love to vilify. Obama probably doesn't even make a top 10 list of great Presidents in terms of his leadership or accomplishments, and I'm fine with that. He was still a good president. He represented us well, he didn't shag any interns, we're in fewer wars and a better economic position than when he took office, and those things are good enough for me.

It's sad that we've come to this standard, but that's where we are. The obscene amounts of money that pour into the election cycle these days, and the amount of influence that those corporations and donors expect in return, has driven both parties to whore themselves out to the highest bidder. Politicians seek not to advance the interests of our nation, but to advance their own egos and improve the status of their party. The Republican debacle this cycle is easier to make fun of because it contained so many buffoons, but don't kid yourself. Hillary is in bed with every Wall Street bank and Silicon Valley firm who wishes to shape the next 4 years in ways that further their own interests. Bernie may be a kook, but I will vehemently defend his principles of not taking Super PAC money. and refusing to accept corporate donations. The fact that he's come so far while staying true to those principles is extremely impressive, and he deserves more credit for that than he's getting.

But now look what's happened. All you moderate Republicans who refused to speak up, and to call out your idiot bigot friends for being idiot bigots have gone and landed us a Trump nomination. I refuse to believe that a majority of registered Republicans like Trump. It's just not possible. I do believe, however, that enough reasonable/rational Republicans stayed home and didn't vote in their state primaries. I do believe that the GOP leaders at the national level refuse to address the elephant in the room, that Trump has been spitting out hateful, ignorant, racist, xenophobic language for some time now. Not borderline, not "open to interpretation," and not "entertainment" as he tries to paint it after the fact, but downright hateful speech. Props to Mitt Romney for coming back on the scene to say "this guy doesn't represent me and doesn't represent my party," but that was too little, too late. The big shot Republicans who did speak our against Trump frequently pointed to Ted Cruz as an acceptable alternative which, again, is complete bullshit. No rational, educated person looks at Ted Cruz and says "yeah, he'd make a good leader of the free world."

So what happens now? Does someone else get nominated at the convention; someone who's not been on the ballot in any primaries? What if Sanders doesn't get the Democrat nod? His supporters aren't going to back Clinton because they hate her. So then the election will be won by whichever candidate fewer people find completely repulsive. I think in a Trump v Clinton election, we'd see even WORSE turnout than we have lately, because so many Americans will refuse to vote for either of them. There are a lot of moderates and independents like me who, under other circumstances, would switch hit and vote for someone from "the other" party, yet, in a Trump v Clinton race will not vote for either. I believe that, in that scenario, Trump wins. His supporters are angrier than hers, and he's won these last 7 races by > 50% because his supporters show up at the polls. To be clear, turnout in the last 7 states was unbelievably low, but the people who did show up and vote cast their ballots for Trump by a wide margin. He beat expectations in Indiana by 15% or more - he was forecast to get 40% and took over 55% of votes cast. I believe that many of Hillary's supporters would not vote because they'd assume that Trump can't possibly win so they don't need to vote.

Kentucky just saw this in our Governor's race - turnout was abysmal because so many people assumed that Jack Conway would walk away with it since Bevin can't form a complete sentence. Then Bevin won, and now our state is sponsoring Noah's @#$% Ark while he's cutting funding to our biggest universities in between criticizing his predecessor for things like no-bid contracts (which Bevin has already awarded $4M in less than 6 months in office). Yeah, I'm pretty pissed about that outcome. I don't blame Bevin's supporters, but I do hope they realize that he doesn't have any claim to a mandate - he won because of who didn't vote as much as who did.

Here's a look back at the Republican platform from 1952. They spend a lot of time complaining about what the Democrats have done, including FDR, but take a look at their principles:

  • "We shall have positive peace-building objectives wherever this will serve the enlightened self-interest of our Nation and help to frustrate the enemy's designs against us.

  • In Western Europe [replace with Middle East] we shall use our friendly influence, without meddling or imperialistic attitudes, for ending the political and economic divisions which alone prevent that vital area from being strong on its own right."
  • With foresight, the Korean War [replace with Iraq/Afghan wars] would never have happened
  • Pro environment
  • Pro union
  • Pro civil rights, womens' rights, native American rights
  • Statehood for Puerto Rico
  • Spending on infrastructure projects (water rights were the big issue at the time)
You get the idea. It's a criticism of the Democrats for doing exactly what the GOP is doing today. It's a platform that couldn't win two votes if they proposed it this summer. That's a shame. So if you're a Republican thinking about becoming an independent or switching parties, I think now would be a great time to do that. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

We DO know Ted Cruz

One of the more bizarre narratives about Obama in 2008 was "we don't know anything about him." The implication was that somehow Obama emerged from the ether in 2007 had no friends, family or acquaintances, and therefor should be viewed with a high level of suspicion and skepticism. I had a number of otherwise-intelligent friends and family members who bought into this one, and it always baffled me because it was so easily refuted with this thing called Google. We knew where he grew up, where he went to college, what his views were ... but people will embrace any excuse to not like a guy who was otherwise highly qualified for the job and far more modern than the ignorant, blow-hard Republican they really wanted to vote for.

Fast forward to this year and Trumpageddon. I continue to chuckle anytime I think about the predicament into which the GOP has placed itself. They let the angry-white-man sentiment fester and ferment for decades now; supplying a new "boogeyman" or at least a "boogey issue" every election cycle for Merle Haggard's base to blame for their woes on; a clever misdirection from the fact that it was the Wall Street bankers + Washington elite (often one and the same) who were bending them over all along. It's the immigrants (a classic - that one is as old as when the first French guy showed up after the Mayflower landed). It's the poor people, those freeloaders. It's the people who want you to use polite words like "disabled" rather than "crippled." It's the environmentalists - their pesky rules about clean air and water are killing the coal industry! It's the drug dealers, if we'd just lock 'em all up things would get better (been trying that for 50 years, how's that working out?). It's the Muslims - their religion is "weird" compared to Christianity, so they are all terrorists, right? Yet rather than educating its members, dispelling these ignorant, xenophobic sentiments, the GOP decided to use them to their advantage. They did everything short of publicly embracing them. And it worked. They got a whole class of people so worked up and angry that they were ready to take action, fight, start a revolution.

Then Trump shows up and says if you guys need an ignorant, angry megaphone, I'm you're man. And that, too, worked spectacularly well. That's all he's doing. He's tapping into the anger and frustration that exists in the GOP, and he's doing a phenomenal job of it; a better job than a milk toast elite like Romney could ever do, which really shouldn't be surprising. WTF does Romney have to complain about? While he's commuting between his 3 homes on his private jet? Enjoying his investment based income stream on which he pays half the tax rate the rest of us do? Romney is a nice guy with a beautiful family. He's polite, he's been successful in business, and he's still on his first wife. How on Earth could he empathize with the angry masses?

Sure, Trump has a private jet too. And a lot of money. But he's totally Ebenezer Scrooge! I mean he's really the perfect modern day example of the Dickens character. He hates himself. He's failed at several of his ventures. He's so shallow, he's on his third wife, and people judge him for that. He treats women like objects, and apparently that's not ok anymore, and he's mad about that. He misses the old days when women and minorities knew their place in society, as accessories to the emperor, he's mad that he has to be all nice and equal about things now. He's the perfect mouthpiece for the angry white man whose prominence in society has fallen as women and minorities have gained ground. If you don't see how "Make America Great Again" is code for "bring back the good old days," you're blind. There are many groups in America who are seeing greater levels of equality and fairness for the first time, and in relative terms, they'd tell you things have never been better (though we still have a lot of room for progress). One of those groups is NOT straight white guys.

Thankfully, the angry Trump fans don't represent a majority of the GOP. There are reasonable voices that are saying "we can't really make him our nominee, right?" So then you have to look at Kasich and Cruz, two complete tools. And unlike Obama, there's no chance you can look at either of them (or Trump) and say "we don't know this guy." We know exactly who they are, all three of them. Anyone who has ever worked with Ted Cruz says he's an ass. Take a look at what John Boehner had to say about him just yesterday:

"Lucifer in the flesh,” the former speaker said. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life."

Of the 99 colleagues he has in the Senate, he has struggled to earn just 2 endorsements. So this guy is the "better alternative to Trump?" In what universe?

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Scalia Vacancy

There is an opening on the Supreme Court. Scalia was as close as a supreme court justice gets to being a right wing nut, which means the 8 justices he leaves are split right down the middle between liberal and conservative. Filling the vacancy his death has created is a really big deal, and it's made even bigger by the fact that this is an election year with a cast of clowns running for the oval office.

Enter my pal, my man, Kentucky's senior Senator, Mitch McConnell. Mitch barely let Scalia's body go cold before offering his two cents on a replacement appointment -  "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice," he said. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." This, like so much that Mitch says, makes no sense at all. It's the President's job to appoint justices and the Senate's job to "interview" them and either confirm or reject them. This is true regardless of which party controls the oval office OR the Senate. Everyone involved in the process is an elected official, meaning the American people DID have a say in this when they re-elected Obama, and when they turned the Senate over to a GOP majority. To suggest that the people only have a say if we wait until after the November Democalypse is an insult to the intelligence of the electorate, and it's also dead wrong.

Here's where McConnell is doubly wrong - his strategy is even worse than his logic on this one. The Supreme Court is halfway through it's docket of cases for this term. Some of those cases have almost certainly been voted on, and some of those votes would've resulted in a 5-4 verdict where Scalia voted with the majority. But the decisions in those cases haven't been published yet; the opinions are still being written. It's common for justices to CHANGE their votes during this process. It ain't official until the fat lady sings. So we've almost certainly got cases in the pipeline that will be retried (resulting in a 4-4 tie, if Scalia isn't replaced), or handed back to the lower courts (which Obama has done a champion job of stacking with Democrats). There's no constitutional law on this specific scenario. For example, technically the court could publish an opinion where a dead justice voted with the majority. It's never happened, and the current chief justice, John Roberts, is known for seeing himself as a steward of the court's image/prestige. I think the's failed pretty hard core on that one, but still it seems unlikely that he'd release any key decisions where Scalia has issued some scathing opinion that belittles the half of the country who disagrees with him. 

So, Mitch, not only is it your job to hold hearings, should Obama nominate someone, but you'd be a fool not to do it. Mitch is of course assuming that the GOP will retain the Senate and also take the White House in November, thus his desire to wait. This is because he, like the rest of the GOP, is stuck in their own echo chamber. Those of us who are swing voters have yet to see someone emerge on the GOP side for whom we'd vote - they're all a bunch of scrappy mud-slinging egotists who have demonstrated a profound level of ignorance on topics like equality, immigration, and foreign policy. 

Friday, January 01, 2016

Reading between the lines

Governor Bevin has wasted no time with press releases and executive orders. I'm looking at these and trying to see what the next 4 years has in store for my adopted home state. The early signs I'm seeing are not good.

Bevin issued an executive order to accommodate one citizen, then promptly issued a press release about it. That's never good policy. It says that he's more interested in scoring political points than doing what's right. It's a waste of state resources for two reasons: it's only benefiting one citizen, and it's unnecessary. The citizen in question is of course Kim Davis, the bigoted bitch of a county clerk who embarrassed a majority of Kentuckians and Christians while simultaneously demonstrating she's unqualified to be a county clerk, because she doesn't understand that Supreme Court rulings are not open to interpretation. The order requires the creation of new marriage license forms, state wide, that don't contain the name of the county clerk - a problem that doesn't need fixing. Bevin is clearly saying that Kim Davis' bigoted views are worthy of accommodation.

That same day, Bevin also reversed a pay raise for state workers making minimum wage. This "raise" was already in our state's budget, which our state constitution requires to be balanced. He also issued a state-wide freeze on hiring. He further said that all open staffing requests would be reviewed to determine if those positions are truly necessary. These are purely symbolic measures; they say "I'm going to reduce the size of government." Even Wal-Mart is giving its minimum wage workers a raise. Not to mention our state currently is enjoying a $165,000,000 budget surplus.

That's right, we got more revenue than we expected, so there is no financial reason to issue a hiring freeze. I suppose if you're an ignorant fool then the "guv'mnt is too damn big" mentality is all the justification you need for such a move, but allow me to suggest an alternate perspective. The one "featured" job over at careers.ky.gov is "prison plumber." I'm just sayin', maybe the prison actually needs a plumber. Maybe that's not some unnecessary bureaucrat living off our tax dollars. Maybe if some poor soul is willing to face the risk and filth associated with fixing shitters in a prison, we should hire him, thank him, and offer him a competitive benefits package, because I can't imagine there are a lot of people waiting in line to fill that post once he quits.

And about that surplus. If we're $165M in the black, why on earth would Governor Bevin say that "our state is financially in trouble" so we need to overhaul medicaid, something his predecessor just did? In fact, Beshear hired an independent commission to analyze the impact of the changes he made to medicaid, and they concluded it delivered a massive financial benefit to the state. It's brought in $3 billion and 12,000 jobs. The Feds have paid for all of it so far, and that continues through 2016.  It's the same thing Ohio GOP Gov. Kasich did, because it's the right thing to do. Forbes praised Kasich for this "extraordinary example of successful conservative governance." I doubt they'll be writing any such articles about Bevin.

So overhauling Medicaid is not only unnecessary (because we just did it), it's financially stupid. Why is Bevin working so hard to undo Beshear's actions, when those actions are demonstrably helpful to the state? Even the way Bevin is going about this makes no sense. He's hired a Medicaid "expert" whose track record is having left Kentucky with a $389 million Medicaid shortfall during Ernie Fletcher's administration. We can't hire a prison plumber, but Bevin creates a high-paid bureaucrat job to solve a problem that doesn't need solving just so he can undo Beshear's legacy of expanding health insurance to the poorest people in our state? That makes no sense, and it looks to me like a bad sign of what we can expect over the next 4 years. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Wacko is relative

I read a well-written analysis on Politico today that will unfortunately never see the mainstream. People are too lazy, or too burned out on politics, or both for something like this to be presented to the masses. It doesn't fit in a "tweet" so people will tune out.

The full article is here. It aligns with a couple theories I have about the current race, specifically:

  1. Trump is getting disproportionate media coverage because his statements are so sensational that they sell a ton of ads. He's the gossip/reality star of the race and that's what Americans lust for these days so he's a siren's song to the major media outlets.
  2. His positions are so outlandish that they skew the curve for other statements made by his fellow GOP candidates. In other words, if you remove Trump from the equation, there are plenty of crazy statements being made by the other Republicans in the race, they just seem less crazy and get less air time relative to Trump
  3. The Democrats are making some wacky statements too, but they're about hippie/socialist themes, not starting wars, encouraging xenophobia and legislating religious beliefs into US law. 
  4. People are so turned off by the entire political process that they don't tune in. This creates a vicious circle, because it gives the candidates the freedom to say absurd things and know that the majority of the electorate isn't listening; they'll only hear what the media distills for them in conveniently digestible 140 character increments. That distillation process is also biased towards trying to sell ads, because that's what a media firm does. 
The process of saying crazy shit in the early part of a race to "stand out" and then later coming back to the center is nothing new. It's called "shifting the Overton window" and the article references it. What is new is the the extremes to which candidates are willing to go to stand out. Think of a number line with 0 as dead-center, moderate America (which is really where most of us are, FYI). 

Ten or 20 years ago, GOP candidates might go to a "+2" to the right and the Dems might go to a "-2" to the left in the early part of the cycle. In this current cycle, the Dems are kicking it down to "-5" with stuff like 90% tax rates and free college for everyone. I don't like that, it's blatant pandering. Here's what I believe is a real problem: The GOP is taking it to "+20" with some of their positions, it's not just Trump, and it's working spectacularly well. Both parties are being more extreme in their rhetoric, but the GOP is going MUCH farther away from center than the Dems. Here are a few examples from the article:
  • Carly Fiorina’s conclusion that the minimum wage is unconstitutional 
  • Mike Huckabee’s pledge to defy Supreme Court rulings he deems incompatible with God’s law 
  • Ben Carson’s assertion that if the United States had set a goal of oil independence within a decade, moderate Arab states would have “turned over Osama bin Laden and anybody else you wanted on a silver platter within two weeks”
  • Rick Santorum’s claim that Islam is not protected by the First Amendment 
  • Chris Christie’s threat to shoot down Russian planes and launch cyberattacks on Chinese leaders
  • Ted Cruz called for putting the United States back on the gold standard 
  • Marco Rubio vowed to repeal Wall Street reform in its entirety and oppose abortion without any exceptions
  • John Kasich, supposedly the moderate in the GOP race, vowed to “punch Russia in the nose.”
These are all things the GOP candidates actually said, on live TV, during their first 75 debates. Many of these statements were not even contradicted by anyone else on stage at the time. Most of them are absolutely ludicrous. Yes, Bernie Sanders giving everyone free college is ludicrous too, but let's hypothesize on the amount of economic harm that would cause versus what every respectable economist believes would happen if we followed the dipshit idea of returning to the gold standard. Or following the theory, which has been roundly disproveds, that wall street will self-regulate. GOP extremism is potentially far more harmful to America. And besides, Obama apparently already made us a socialist nation, so there's nothing left for Sanders to do. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The death march to election day continues

I watched the 12/15 CNN debate and it was genuinely difficult to stomach. Here's what I heard:
  • America won't be safe unless we continue these endless wars and significantly increase defense spending
  • I'll demonstrate I'm tougher than Obama by making the current federal spying programs a lot more aggressive!
  • "The FBI has the authority to investigate 'un-American' activities." Yeah, it's called McCarthyism.
  • I promise to build a stronger, more heavily fortified wall on the Mexican border than _______.
So, overall I saw a complete lack of respect for the lessons of history or the constitution. Going to war in Iraq was a terrible mistake, BOTH times. No one has ever won a war in Afghanistan, ever. Lybia and Egypt are not new democracies, they're new problem spots in the region. Who in their right mind says "if we would just carpet  bomb Syria and then put some boots on the ground this would all get better?" Right, Ted Cruz. 

Kasich was again the only one who suggested that we need to come together as a nation, find common ground, and ditch this us versus them paradigm. The others promptly ran him over with a bulldozer. For most of the rest of them it was a contest of who could be more arrogant, the exceptions being Ben Carson who yet again shattered the stereotype that brain surgeons are smart, and Carly Fiorina who is the female equivalent of Mitt Romney - a disconnected elitist. 

I noticed something interesting when the talk turned to national security and the NSA spying program - Rubio & Bush openly criticized Cruz and Paul for even talking about the program. I figured that was just debate showmanship. Turns out that the head of the Senate intelligence committee (try not to laugh too hard at the fact that those three words appear on a door somewhere in DC) felt Cruz and perhaps Paul revealed too much detail about how much the program was expanded in its most recent renewal. Here's an excerpt:

"The backlash to Cruz’s remarks reinforces the lack of an open, democratic discussion of surveillance programs. And although elements of the programs must remain classified to preserve their effectiveness, the total blackout on information about them keeps the public from being able to make informed decisions about the lawmakers and officials they elect.

“Sure, we can talk about the capabilities of Section 702,” said Jake Laperruque, a fellow at New America’s Open Technology Foundation, referring to a different NSA program that scoops up data straight from the physical infrastructure of the Internet. “But it’s hard to have a meaningful debate about it when you can’t tell the American people whether a few hundred or a few million of them are being swept up in a warrantless surveillance program.”

I thought the GOP was supposed to be for small government and protecting individual liberties? Yet all they could do was try to out-do each other in terms of how authoritarian they would be in terms of domestic and foreign policy. Absolutely pathetic.