Friday, January 20, 2017

A New President, The Same Country

About eight years ago, when President Obama came into office with majorities in the House and Senate, I wrote of my hope the Democrats would learn to govern and not attempt to rule through partisan domination.  History showed my concern was legitimate, and my hope went unrealized.  For the next two years, they chose to dominate the debates and force their political agenda on the minority.  We saw in the next three elections, they lost seats in the House and Senate and finally lost the White House because of their intransient approach to social engineering and commitment to party politics.
The Republican party, for their part became equally immobile, tone deaf, and in several conflicts, extreme as they fought for the positions they favored.  In the course of these struggles the average American suffered.  The wealthiest grew richer, the poorest – poorer, and the middle class grew more concerned as they watched the professional politicians put political advantage before the needs of the country.
Thanks to the advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest we have entered into the age of personal attacks and condemnation through vilification.  We see the shaping of opinion not through informed choice, but through clever meme creation, where one side latches on to one fraction of a fact and portrays it far out of proportion, just as an artist does in a caricature.   
Today we will swear in a new President.  The Republican’s will have majorities in both the houses and what will our path be?  The biggest difference between now and 2009 is the new President is not really a professional party partisan, and is both deeply despised by the partisan left and disliked by the partisan right.  It will be interesting to see how well he adapts to a role that is both symbolic as the leader to the party, and real as the leader of the nation.  Will he choose to lead as he has led his companies, or will he be able to overcome the partisan politics and build relationships with those he must to fulfill his promises to the American middle class?
Will he be able to cut federal spending, limit federal overreach, build a stronger economy, and restore the faith of the people in the idea that government is here to help foster a safe and secure country for its citizens?  Or will he continue the course we’ve set ourselves on through personal attacks, confrontation and mean spirited debate we’ve seen as the hallmarks of the recent campaign?
The next year will build the foundation for his term and while I hope it is a solid one, my instinct tells me we will see more conflict than change.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thoughts from a 6-foot Ladder

For most of the past month I’ve been away helping my daughter and son-in-law in Pennsylvania.  It was a busy month celebrating Christmas, seeing my wife off as she returned to Florida, helping to care for six children, all under the age of nine, assisting with the house chores, and driving my son-in-law to and from work after his surgery.  I spent few moments each day reflecting on the world events important to that day and the political turmoil of the left and the right did not rise to even an afterthought.  I suspect that is the way it is for most young families.

I returned last night, with a head cold – compliments of the Reading Hospital ER where we spent a lovely 4-hours with three children who were suspected of ingesting some prescription medication.  It turned out they hadn’t.  Of course, head cold or no, there were Christmas decorations waiting to be taken down so I’ve had a full day of standing on my ladder as I took the lights from the eaves and the lower branches of the Magnolia tree.  While on the ladder I had some time to consider some of the political news I had not bothered with, and now in the quiet of the evening have time to put my thoughts, for what they are worth, down.

As President Obama prepares to leave office, I find his actions incredible.  He has shown, by his deeds, his core beliefs.  Political opportunism and advancement of his agenda is far more important to him than leaving his successor a secure and sustainable nation.  In years past I’ve commented on what appears to be a narcissistic characteristic, where every event is about him.   That opinion has only been reinforced this month as we watched both he and his Vice President award themselves medals for being the greatest team to run the country for the past eight years.  Can anyone name another outgoing Executive that felt so compelled to the spot light that they would have one of their Cabinet members award them a medal?

There is a tradition among past presidents to shun the limelight once they leave office, and not attempt to undermine their successor’s task of leading the nation.  My guess is we will regularly see President Obama on the news doing everything he can to delegitimize President Trump.  The ground work for this has already been laid, and we see the short-sighted approach of leading Congressional Democrats in making a public stance on not attending the inauguration.  Aided by a willing media, I don’t think it will be long before Mr. Obama finds some excuse to interject himself back into the political debate.

Accountability has never been a strength of this administration.  If you look at the claims from the White House that they have been the most scandal free administration in history the natural question is are they really that morally superior, or is it they have found effective ways to avoid the accountability that comes when there is a legitimate press, asking hard questions.  Who, aside from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has been held responsible for the deplorable conditions of their hospitals and patient care?  Who in the IRS has been held responsible for their targeting of conservative groups asking for tax exemptions?  Who in the DOJ has been held responsible for sending assault weapons to drug cartels?  Of course, the EPA is accountable, right?  Who is held responsible for the spills into the Animas River, or who approved the oil pipeline through the Standing Rock tribal lands?  Finally, who in the administration has even considered holding Ms. Clinton responsible for her actions?  As far as I know, few have anything to fear from this administration as long as they are pushing the right agenda.

Speaking of agenda and accountability, consider the reasons why the President would choose to pardon a soldier convicted of violating the espionage act by giving WikiLeaks over three quarters of a million official documents containing some of the nation’s highest classification.  Surely, the fact she claims now to be a transgender woman and has the support of the LGBT community can’t possibly be a factor.  Could it?  What message does this send to the society at large?  If you have identify-issues, then accountability isn’t required?  Looking at how the administration has dealt with Ms. Clinton and Manning it is clear there is no expectation of accountability in the President.  Clearly the heart of the Presidential policy is “Say anything, do anything, and the people will love me, because I am me!”  How often do we hear how great he is from the entertainment industry we call ABCNNBCBS and Hollywood?

For a President who had the unique opportunity to unify this nation and bring the different races to a shared vision he has been a miserable failure, but of course it was not his fault.  It never is.  Recognizing the BLM while failing to even note the increased assassinations of America’s police is clearly a political choice, like all his choices it is one aimed at dividing this nation, not calming and unifying.  For him, and those who worship him, the cult of personality is all that matters.  Hmmm, I wonder where else we have seen a cult of personality drive their nation to destruction?  The name Hugo Ch├ívez seems to ring a bell.

Finally, watching the antics of the two sides play out, I don’t look forward to the next four years, but I will continue to write about what I observe.  Hopefully from time to time a few will read and let me know what they think.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the Age of Outrage

We seem to be living in a bi-polar world.  One day the Democrats love Syria's Assad, the next they don’t.  One day the Republicans are concerned with Russia, the next not so much.  One day the left condemn the Republican candidate for his refusal to promise to support the outcome of the election, the next day they are outraged he wins and set out to overturn the outcome of the election.

For the average citizen, watching from the sidelines with little ability to directly influence the outcomes, these media driven flip-flops look a lot like a championship ping-pong game.

Of course, most of the memes I see on social media show the outrage of the left, for that is the big topic of the day, but given even the slightest pause there will be outrage from the right.  For example, should even one elector change their vote you can expect to see incredible controversy develop.  From the right, it will be the undoing of our democracy, from the left it will be disbelief that not more electors saw the danger to the Republic of electing someone not bought and paid for by the traditional sources.

I would like to believe with the coming of the new year it will be over, but it won’t.  I fully expect the party that spent the first six years of its control of the Presidency blaming the past administration will continue to challenge the legitimacy of the government in ways I cannot yet appreciate.

We often talk about a pendulum swinging one way and then another.  As our outrage grows eventually the pendulum will pass horizontal and fall off the hinge.

Just a Thought

I wonder if what scares most Democratic politicians about Mr. Trump is they realize if an ordinary, run of the mill, American billionaire can run the country without hiring middlemen then all the Democratic billionaires will realize they can run it too, and won’t need to buy politicians to do it for them.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My $64 Question

How much of who we are is based on our genetics?  Way back in the 20th Century I had a professor, who today would be considered a racist, at the time he was not that exceptional in his opinions.  He pointed out that it was genetics that led the East African’s to be exceptional long distant runners, or that it was genetics that led to some people being seven feet tall and wonderfully coordinated.  Of course, this theory was carried on to say it was genetics that leads some races to be smarter than others.  I remember sitting in class next to a Ugandan when he said this.  I don’t think Michael really accepted the premise and although we’ve not kept in touch, I suspect he went on to prove the Professor wrong, for he was, in fact, a wonderfully intelligent student and gifted soccer player.
Clearly, genetic makeup plays a role in how our bodies form, our skeletons, organs, muscles and tissue develop and grow.  It helps define the expectations for our nerves, or senses, and our central processing unit.  It is a blue print, it establishes the basic design, it may account for unique abilities, deformities or susceptibilities, or even likelihoods for certain social outcomes, but it cannot account for all the various design modifications that occur in life.
For example, two friends grow up in the tenements of NYC, one goes on to become a surgeon, the other a drug dealer.  Why?
When my son played football in Middle and High School, he had a peer with the potential to play at Division I, and perhaps go on to a professional career.  He never reached his athletic potential due to the life choices he made.  Why did he make poor choices?
Finally, what is it about the human spirit that will drive someone to an immediate short term gain in performance at the cost of his life?  Lyle Alzado comes to mind as I write this.  Would he have developed his brain cancer if he had not taken anabolic steroids?  Lyle thought he would not when he said, “I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm sick, and I'm scared. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 300 lb (140 kg) or jump 30 ft (9.1 m). But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair's gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way.”  Lyle Alzado died May 14, 1982 at age 43.
These questions form the basis for my next and final question, but first some background on my opinions. 
First, governments are impersonal.  True they are made up of human beings, some quite personal and carrying, others perhaps not, but they govern by the creation of rules and regulations.  Fit the square peg in the square hole, fit the round peg in the round hole.  For the most part they gain influence by providing money, so people have begun to consider them as they would any rich relative, but they are not.  We can go to the government seeking money for whatever we believe to be our need, but what happens when our individual, or minority collective desires out-pace the funds the government has available to pay?  At some point someone is disappointed and ultimately there will come a reckoning as more and more of the available funds are used to pay the interest payments for those funds we borrow to keep everyone happy.
Next, those who believe in bigger government would have you believe government creates wealth.  It does not.  It takes a share of the wealth created by enterprise and spends it on a variety of programs.  If the money is spent wisely, it protects the nation, builds a sustainable infrastructure, and advances human knowledge so more wealth is created.  Some will question the lack in this short list of social welfare, and attribute it to a lack of concern on my part.  I can assure you that is not the case.  The purpose of our government is, in the words of the founders, [to]establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  I believe the social welfare programs, including those created in the Roosevelt era like Social Security, those created in the Johnson era like Medicare, and all the rest our Representatives and President have created fall within the ever-expanding category of infrastructure.  As noted in the link for welfare, today’s use of the term does not match the use at the time our Constitution was written.  Also, not envisioned at the time of our founding was the role of government in the sciences.  At that time, science was the purview of the individuals or their benefactors and most governments focused on the problems of today, not tomorrow.  Along the way we have come to realize as a nation the need for the government to further the advancement of mankind’s understanding of the world and universe we are a part of.
Third, governments are amoral.  They reflect the consensus of citizens, government officials (e.g. police and fire, administrators, employees), judges, and politicians.  It cannot establish a moral code for the individual, it can only enforce, through the threat or actual use of force, the whims of the state as manifest by its rules and regulations.  If one part of government chooses to ignore those rules and regulations, or apply them unevenly, it will set up a condition where the equilibrium of the state is upset and conflict in government, or between government and the individual is created.  We have seen this manifest for as long as I can remember.  First in the treatment of the minorities, escalating to a point today where the force of the government is used against political opposition.
Finally, educators may influence individual morality but they are, for the most part, inconsistent since each individual brings their personal views into play, and during early development this inconsistency is as likely as not to simply confuse the child.  Where the government creates an expectation for educators to shape the moral code of a generation we see such inconsistency playing out in confusion and loss of individual identity.
Here is my question: At the end of the day what shapes the lives of those who succeed despite adversity, or conversely, what is missing from those who settle for their lot in life and a sense there is no hope?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

10 Things I Don't Expect to Change in 2017

1.     De-legitimizing the President.  For the past eight years’ supporters of the President have decried as fiction any criticism that questioned the legitimacy of the man for the role.  For the next four years those same defenders will do everything they complained about to the new President.  The irony of this transference will be lost on most people.

2.    The current trajectory of civil conversation

3.    The size of the Federal Government

4.    The use of government departments as overt political tools

5.     An honest public-assessment of the DNC goals, objectives, and its approach to helping the lives of the poor improve to escape the oppression of poverty and achieve a sense of worth

6.    Violence in the major cities

7.     Global climate change...

8.    Government spending greater than government income

9.    Terror as a political tool in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North and South America, Asia, the sub-continent, and Australia.  I think Antarctica may be safe.

10.  The number of human beings who've landed on the moon

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Justice is Just a Word

We are bombarded by concerns about justice, social and otherwise, but what is justice?  Apparently, it is a lot like beauty.  One man’s justice is another man’s injustice.  For a moment consider what it takes to claim to be a just and fair nation operating under the rule of law.  Then consider how far we can stray as one segment or another of society and the legal system move from a common ideal to their preferred approach.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.” A declaration by President Obama he did not intend to allow the Congress to slow down his administration as he did those things he thought would strengthen his position, the position of his party, the position of his supporters, and perhaps the United States.  At the time, I remember thinking, “Boy, that is a bad idea, because he is setting a standard for his successor.”  As we enter this new era where President-elect Trump will enter the oval office we can expect a huge outcry from the left as he carries on and perhaps expands the tradition of rule by executive order.

The past eight years have seen the administration use the full scope of its executive branch to attack its political opponents.  Remember the time the IRS set out to restrict tax exempt status for conservative organizations?  How about the time the DOJ has injected itself into state investigations to make sure the President’s agenda was pushed, or the time they sold assault weapons to the cartels?  Most recently we hear a report of a “rogue” employee for Homeland Security attempting to hack into the state of Georgia’s election system.  Sorry, but that rogue employee ruse was used by the IRS so there is little credibility remaining with this administration.  All these things, once created, will remain.  We’ve already seen the President-elect’s staff ask for the names of bureaucrats and scientists who have been at the leading edge of pushing the climate change data President Obama labeled as his top agenda item.

The funny thing is there are those on the right who are comfortable with this. The same people who were uncomfortable when the Obama administration began the process are now on-board.  Just as interesting is the outrage of the left, who were completely on-board with the previous administration.  In both cases, we are moving further and further from where the rule of law holds our society together.

Let’s talk about laws for a moment.  I imagine most pre-millennials will remember the Schoolhouse Rock, series that explained in simple terms how an idea progressed into a law.  But that is only 1/3 of the equation.  For a law to be effective it must be administered fairly and judged impartially.  I am afraid we are seeing a breakdown in both the exercise of enforcement, and the impartiality of the judicial system that is charged with the administration of the law.  There are a number of possible examples, but for this purpose I will look at gun control, since it provides the most heated approach on both sides of the center.

One the one hand there are those who would want absolutely no control over the ownership and use of any kind of fire arm, on the opposite extreme there are those who would like to see all guns removed from American civil society.  I think even this extreme still sees the need for guns in the military and perhaps the police, but for everyone else gun ownership should be illegal.  Both extremes are very small percentages, but at the end of the day they seem to be the loudest heard.  Holding aside the debate regarding our right to own guns, let’s only look at would a new law make the possibility of gun violence less?

Those who favor more gun control will obviously say yes, those who oppose, no.  The problem is a law is only words on a paper.  It falls to the humans who are involved in enforcement, the politicians who control and fund them, and the judges and juries who make a determination on application for a law to have any effect.  We never hear about the complexity of making a law work all we ever hear about is “we need a new law,” or “no, we don’t need a new law.”

Over the past eight years we have seen the DOJ selectively break or enforce the laws on gun control, and then stonewall the Congress as they investigated their actions.  Individual acts aside, there has got to be an overall negative affect on the general population over the impartiality of the DOJ on this issue.  Then at the state and local levels we have seen the enforcement of the existing laws expand or contract depending on the politicians and their political affiliations.  If enforcement of the law is not uniform it can’t be effective, when this is the case no law on earth is worth the paper it is written on.

Finally, there is a judicial system that provides a non-uniform application of the law to the defendants brought before the bench.  We’ve seen much in the news about the bias of southern courts where a white defendant will receive a lesser sentence then a black, but the same holds true for northern courts as well, it is just not as well published.  Another variable is personal judicial bias.  It a judge puts their desire for social justice above the fair application of the law they are creating an uneven playing field, to the same degree as a judge who puts race ahead of the facts.

Without a fair and evenly applied enforcement arm, and trusted judicial system, justice is just a word.  As we have seen, it appears to be less important to more people each day.


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