Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'politics'

Mottos Matter

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 05, 2017 @ 7:34 pm PDT

userpic=divided-nationI was getting all ready to do a post about NPR tweeting the Declaration of Independence and the kerfuffle over the CNN video and its source, but then I realized there was something deeper to say about the implication of mottos.

Since 1956 — the height of “godless communism” — the motto of the USA was “In God We Trust” and “Under God” was added to the pledge. Before that, the unofficial motto — since the founding of the nation — was E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One).  The change was made — ostensibly — to distinguish us from the godless Commies. I think our decline into partisanship began then.

Think about the two sayings. When you say, “In God We Trust”, the first question is: Whose God? Is it the God of the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindu, the Buddhists, the… And what about those who do not believe in God, or who question God? “In God We Trust”, ultimately, is a motto that divides us. It also explicitly gives a religious basis to what makes us strong. If “In God We Trust”, then it is God that makes us strong. Actually, it is my God that makes us strong, and your God that makes us weak, so you better do what my God says.

Now consider “E Pluribus Unum“. This is a strength that comes not from the Divine, but from the people. It says that it is our diversity that makes us strong — our different ideas. It is all of us working together that makes this nation great, setting aside religious, cultural, and political differences to find compromises that move us forward.

Our National leaders — starting from the era of Eisenhower and “In God We Trust” (for this is when both Nixon and Reagan got their starts) — have increasingly emphasized the divides in our nation. Religion. Class. Color. Gender. They have played those divides to accumulate power and wealth. We see the results in Washington DC today. People work for party over the nation, believing what is good for their party must be good for the nation, unquestioningly. We have seen a populace that unquestioningly hates the other side, considered them to be sub-human. We have seen the hatred grow, and the unity disappear.

For America to survive, we must remember that we were founded for E Pluribus Unum, not In God We Trust. We must come together to celebrate our diversity, find the strength within, and work together for all people. We must elect leaders who feel the same. We must remind our currently elected leaders that if they do not work for all the people, then they may soon be looking for a new job.

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Be Careful What You Wish For….

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jul 03, 2017 @ 11:20 am PDT

Today’s lunchtime news chum brings two stories where getting what you wanted didn’t quite work out as planned:

  • We Elected A Business Man to run our Government. What Could Go Wrong?

No, I’m not talking about President Trump. Politico Magazine has a detailed analysis of Colorado Springs’ jump into Libertarianism. From the election of a politically-inexperienced Mayor who promised to run the city like a business, to the consequence of the financial crisis. From some initial successes, it was downhill. But the Springs are booming again? Why. A political conservative new Mayor was elected — but this time, one who understood what government is and how it functions.

  • We Wanted a Cheap, Reliable, Air Transportation System Between Domestic Cities. What Could Go Wrong?

The answer is, of course, corporate greed. This is what has led to the Boeing 737 being stretched longer and longer, with more efficient and powerful engines, going longer and longer distances. But there hasn’t been a change in fuselog width or underlying control systems. So we’re just packing more and more in, and squishing everyone closer together.  But don’t panic. The real Boeing 797 may be around the corner. It will be built of new composite materials, but doesn’t look to be a wide-body. Sounds like a 737 with new electronics and a lighter airframe, permitting even more speed and even more distance. How far can you throw a tin can?

 

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Parallel Divides

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 02, 2017 @ 3:18 pm PDT

userpic=divided-nationReading through my Facebook feed today, an article from Haaretz caught my eye: ‘Religion-hating Gangsters’: Israeli Orthodox Vitriol Toward Reform Jews Escalates Amid Kotel Crisis.  As the article is a premium article (meaning if you don’t come in right, it is behind a paywall), I’ll quote from it a bit more than I normally would:

“Inappropriate and insolent.” That’s how Rabbi Abraham Gordimer, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar, dubbed Reform Jewish protests against the government’s decision to freeze plans for a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall.

Rabbi Gordimer’s comments, published on the right-leaning Arutz Sheva website in English, were mild compared to the wave of bile heaped upon the followers of Reform Judaism in Israel’s right-wing Hebrew press. Readers would have been forgiven for forgetting that the government itself had approved the plan last year after four years of negotiations brokered by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Far-right lawmaker Betzalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) accused the Reform movement of “dragging Diaspora Jews into a fight.” He said responsibility for the crisis lay with “a small fringe group of a few dozen activists in the Israeli Reform movement. They don’t care about the right of an individual to pray according to his beliefs.”

A profile of Reform leader Rick Jacobs in Israel’s Maariv daily newspaper and the NRG website portrayed him as an “extreme left,” pro-BDS “gangster” as one of the many Israelis who circulated the story on social media described him. A commentary on Channel 20 accused him of being a “selective Zionist” and creating a platform for anti-Semitic propaganda.

[…]

Non-Orthodox Jews were depicted as outsiders with no legitimate say in what should or shouldn’t happen at the Western Wall or in Israel at large.

[…]

Anti-Reform sentiment runs deep among Israel’s Orthodox leadership. At the Haaretz conference earlier this month, lawmaker Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism explained why he could not align with left-wing parties even though he found them “more intelligent” than their counterparts on the right. “Why don’t I go with the left? Because you sit with the Reform,” he said.

Last month, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, head of Yeshivat Kashei Rachamim, compared Reform Jews to pigs in his weekly sermon. “They are not Jews,” he said.

Rabbi Michael Marmur, provost of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, said there has long been among some streams of the Orthodox movement “a long history of looking at the Reform movement as a boogey man and a tendency to blame Reform for all the heinous things in the world.”

“As we make more inroads into the conversation about what Israel should look like, there is an inflationary spiral in the rhetoric,” he said. “The vitriol you see expressed is in direct proportion to us trying to make a stand. We are wheeled out as the enemy, as traitors. The article about Rick Jacobs is a classic example. If Reform Jews and the Reform movement he represents are understood as a dagger in the back, as a fifth column, then the problem is neutralized.”

As I read through this, I was struck by the parallels in the rhetoric that I have seen — and continue to see — from what I would characterize as many in the far right — the ardent Trump supporters. Further, given the very un-Presidential tweet of an animation showing our President* beating up and bloodying the mainstream media, personified by CNN, I dare to say that this is rhetoric I’ve seen from our President himself.

From my very Conservative friends on my Facebook feed, I have seen posts making the same claims about Liberals that the Orthodox make about Reform. Read the quote above and replace the sentiment with Liberals, and it will sound familiar. “They are not Americans”.  There is “a long history of looking at the Liberal movement as a boogey man and a tendency to blame Liberals for all the heinous things in the world.” “Liberals are wheeled out as the enemy, as traitors. The article about [insert your Democratic candidate] is a classic example. If the Democratic Party and the Liberal/Progressive movement he represents are understood as a dagger in the back, as a fifth column, then the problem is neutralized.” As to why moderate Republicans might not work with the Democrats? Lawmaker [insert name here] of the Republican Party explained why he could not align with left-wing parties even though he found them “more intelligent” than their counterparts on the right. “Why don’t I go with the left? Because you sit with the Liberals/Progressives,”

It sounds far too familiar. Yet from Reform Jews towards Orthodoxy, just as from Liberals towards Conservatives, I don’t see the same level of hatred or divide. There is the willingness to accept the diversity of opinion, to recognize that we can agree to disagree. Reform Jews don’t characterize Orthodox as the source of all problems in Judaism, just as Liberals do not  characterize all Conservatives as the source of all problems in America. (Well, most don’t).

If this country is to move forward and not split apart, we must learn to see people as people and not the abstract enemy that we hate. Separation and hatred plays to activist bases, but doesn’t solve problems. Unfortunately, we may never get past this if the leadership of the parties do not set the example. If our leaders cannot work together, how can the people ever have a hope of doing the same. My voice is insignificant — I’m represented by congresscritters and senators that already feel as I feel. I’d urge those supporting the President to urge him to act Presidential, to remember that he is the President of the entire country, not just the minority of the voters that voted for him. But, alas, even as congressional leadership urges that, he is ignoring it.

Almost 27 years ago I started the Liberal Judaism Mailing List to provide a place where people from different Jewish movements could discussion issues in an environment where we respected each others as Jews and didn’t let movemental affiliation impact that respect.  Fundamental to that discussion was the notion that saying lies or propagating myths about the other side is essentially Lashon Horah, propagation of gossip and lies. Through hard moderation, we were able to keep a positive dialog going for a long time. Why can’t, as Americans, we do the same?

As we approach this July 4th, we must remember that the original motto of this country was not “In God We Trust”, and there wasn’t an emphasis on pushing Christianity on the people (the only reference to religion in the Constitution was the fact that there shouldn’t be a religious test for office holders). Rather, the original motto was, E Pluribus Unum, “From Many, One”. It is the many voices that came together to make this nation strong, not one voice stomping out all the others.

*: Yes, our President. Whether you voted for him or not, he is President of this  country. The fact that he doesn’t act very Presidential, as someone people can respect and model behavior after, is a different issue.

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Don’t Sound Conservative To Me (A Lunchtime Rant)

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jun 21, 2017 @ 11:40 am PDT

userpic=trump[NEVERMIND — It turned out the source that triggered this was from a satire site. This is not the post you are looking for. Move along.]

Recently, I commented upon a tweet of President Trump’s that was internally contradictory. Today, I was reading another article where a statement from Press Secretary Sean Spicer just blew my mind. Here’s the statement (from this article) — take note of the phrase I have emboldened:

Asked by several reporters to clarify the full extent of the president’s power, or in other words, its limitations – if they exist – Spicer argued that the Constitution “clearly states” what the President of the United States can and cannot do. “However,” he added, “one must also recognize the fact that our Constitution was written quite a while ago and, as such, isn’t ideal when it comes to facing the issues that plague the American society nowadays. One of those issues is also the limit of the president’s power. Just like our language and many other things that are typically American, our Constitution is also a living thing that changes and evolves as time goes by. And if it doesn’t do so on its own, then it has us, the people of America, to help it. However, seeing how the people already have more than enough on their plate these days, the president has decided not to bother you folks with such boring decisions.

One of the major complaints of the Republican Party has been activist judges interpreting the Constitution in the way that the founders never intended. This has been a primary argument of those desiring particular Supreme Court judges. In fact, one of the reasons that Trump’s nominee was such a concern to Democrats is that he was a strict interpreter. Trump, during his campaign, endorsed strict interpretation. Yet look at the statement again: “our Constitution is also a living thing that changes and evolves as time goes by.” That seems to be the argument that the Democrats have been making — so why aren’t the Republicans up in arms about this statement.”

As for the issue of limiting Presidential power: the desire for that limitation shouldn’t be based on the individual that occupies the office.  It seems that the Republicans wanted all sorts of limitations on Presidential power when Obama was in office. One would think they would want such limitations under Trump, because eventually Trump will be replaced by a Democrat.

Then again, there is this statement by Spicer:

“For example, President Trump not only has the power to fire Robert Mueller; he also has the legal ability and right to cancel and disband the Supreme Court of the United States as well, should he feel the need for it. And no one could argue with such a decision.”

Say that again? The Supreme Court is defined in the Constitution. He cannot disband it and fire all the members — that would be a clear violation of the constitution. There is also a long standing precedent about judicial legitimacy (see Episode 1 here) going back to the days of Marbury v Madison, which established the authority of the Supreme Court to declare Congressional and Presidential actions and laws unconstitutional. Given the length that this precedent has been standing, Trump’s legal team would need a very strong basis to overturn it — and arguing a flexible Constitution isn’t it.

In short: Yes, the President can fire Executive Department members, as the head of the Executive Branch. However, if those actions can be shown to be attempts to impede investigations, there can be charges of obstruction of justice (and yes, Mr. Gingrich, the President can be guilty of obstruction — look at Nixon and Clinton). The President cannot fire members of Congress or their staff. He cannot fire the Supreme Court; they are hired by Congress and serve for life or until they retire.

This is why it is vitally important that Congress — not the FBI — appoint an independent investigator to look into all charges related to Russia and its interference with American politics, into conflicts of interest that impact government decisions, and to use of elected and appointed offices for personal gain. That will insulate the investigator from Presidential interference. As with President Obama, I’m sure that if the investigator concludes there is nothing to see, everyone will believe it.

 

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Internal Contradictions

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jun 09, 2017 @ 12:45 pm PDT

userpic=trumpI haven’t done a Trump post in a while — basically, the situation has become so bazaar that no commentary is necessary, and the sides are so polarized that no commentary is useful. A bad situation. But a post came across my RSS feeds this morning that keeps sticking in my head. It is about an internally contradictory tweet from Trump about the Comey testimony:

At 6:10 am on Friday, Trump broke his silence on Comey’s testimony. And in doing, he provided an object lesson in how he uses bullshit, rather than arguments or even lies, to achieve his goals.

Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2017

Step back and assess the contradictory things Trump is asking us to believe:

  • Trump’s first point is that Comey is a liar (and, since he was testifying under oath before the Senate, a perjurer). It is not just Trump making this case. White House staff have said that Trump, among other things, never asked for Comey’s loyalty, and that the ex-FBI director is making his story up. No one really believes this, but then, that’s not the point.
  • Trump’s second point is that even though Comey is a liar trying to frame Trump, his testimony is believable as a complete and total vindication for Trump, though what Trump is being completely and totally vindicated of is unclear.
  • Trump’s third point is that Comey “is a leaker.”

My take on this is: If Comey is a liar, then how can his testimony be a total and complete vindication. If what he says is a fabrication, it can’t prove anything. If it is true, then it really isn’t a vindication. Additionally, if he is a liar, then his leak is false as well. Since you consider him a leaker, and that his testimony was true enough to vindicate, then he can’t be lying.

There was an interesting take on things yesterday on NPR, when discussing whether when the president indicates he wishes something would happen, whether that was a direct order. The response was that the President is similar to a mafia boss: When Don Corlione wishes that someone might have an accident, they somehow conveniently have an accident. So when the President hints that Flynn is his friend and he wishes the investigation would go away, that is obstruction of justice.

I have all confidence that the hole will continue to be dug deeper. My larger dismay is more with the Eric Trumps of the world, who don’t consider Trump’s opponents as people. I’ve seen this from many, but not all, of my Conservative friends. They view Democrats and Liberals as the lowest of the low, as scum of the earth, a class that they wish would go away. And, as noted above, we know the power of “wishes”. This dehumanizing language is the first step towards genocide of groups or people. View your opponent — be it Democrat, Jew, Black, Asian, Mexican, Muslim — as not human and worthy of life, and it becomes much easier to treat them as such, to the point of killing them because they have no value. I strongly urge those who hold such views — no matter where you are on the political spectrum — to reconsider them. You can disagree with someone without dehumanizing them.

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A Problem of Definitions

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu May 04, 2017 @ 1:06 pm PDT

userpic=trumpYou may have noticed I’m doing fewer political posts. A lot of it is because I get far too disgusted when I read the political news these day. I realized yesterday that the root of our problem comes from our failure to establish good definitions.

If you ever work with government rules and regulations, you know that a key part is getting the terms defined correctly and precisely. One wrong definition, one wrong comma, and you don’t get what you want. Millions of people voted for Donald Trump, and his stated goal of “Make America Great Again.” There’s only one problem. They failed to precisely define “Great”.

I know, for me, what a “great” America is. It is one that ensures that its citizens are treated right. It is one that make sure there is no discrimination on race, sex, orientation, gender, size. It is one that protects those that needs protection, and one that uses laws to restrain the evil inclinations inherent in our kind. It is one that ensures there is affordable housing, healthcare, and safe living conditions. It is one where jobs and job training is available. It is one where any person can succeed if they wish, but where success does not come with class warfare or class exploitation. It is a Nation where people can feel safe in their beds and on the streets, no matter their color or class. It is one that provides the necessary infrastructure to support fair commerce. It is one where people want to pay to provide those services, because they believe that benefits come with responsibilities — where those who have feel the obligation to help those who have not.

But I recognize that my definition of “great” is not universally shared. It certainly isn’t shared by our current leadership.

I recognize that those who voted for Trump have a different definition of “Great”. They see “Great” as something we once were, back in the days of the Greatest Generation. The days when the Government didn’t do so much, didn’t involve itself in so many lives. The days when the middle class — and it was mostly a white middle class back then — could be assured of well-paying jobs. They were looking for the “Leave It To Beaver” world, a “Father Knows Best” world, where protest didn’t happen, when America’s might was unquestioned, when those pesky people that looked different or talked different were invisible (unless you were a Cuban band leader). That was the “Great” they expected Trump to bring back.

Was that Donald Trump’s definition of “Great”? I think not.

Donald Trump is a simple man, and his definition of “Great” is simple: America is great when Donald Trump is winning.

Donald Trump wins when taxes on the wealthy go down (which repealing the ACA does). Donald Trump wins when environmental regulations and bureaucratic red tape is cut. Donald Trump wins when petty dictatorships talk to him and permit him to market and build in their countries. Donald Trump wins when his financial dealings aren’t disclosed.

A man like Donald Trump would fit right in with the Robber Barons of the late 1800s, when there were no anti-trust concerns, political power was absolute with the right bribes and connections, when being white was right, without question. A time when the poor were working in horrid conditions, with no government protections. A time when America was isolationist, not spending funds on foreign activities.

Donald Trump would love those time to come back. They would make him Great again, and if he is Great, America is Great.

Damn that pesky definition.

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Conspiracy Theories: The Key is Plausibility

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 18, 2017 @ 9:32 am PDT

userpic=trumpPresident Trump is a never ending source of conspiracy theories. From his farcical belief that Obama directly wiretapped his phones, to the notion that the former President is part of some sort of “Deep State” conspiracy with George Soros to usurp his throne his office — it’s all conspiracy, all the time.

It’s Just an Excuse

On Friday, news came out that a laptop was stolen from an Secret Servent agent’s car. The agent told investigators the laptop contained floor plans for Trump Tower, evacuation protocols and information regarding the investigation of Clinton’s private email server, according to sources. An agency-issued radio was also taken, according to Politico. Other items stolen include “sensitive” documents, an access keycard, coins, a black zippered bag with the Secret Service insignia on it and lapel pins from various assignments — including ones involving President Trump, the Clinton campaign, the United Nations General Assembly and the Pope’s visit to New York, sources said. Sources and neighbors said the thief stepped out of a dark-colored sedan, possibly an Uber, and darted into Argentieri’s Bath Beach driveway about 3 a.m. According to the neighbors, a video of the theft “showed somebody running to the car and running back out.  They knew what they were doing, absolutely. They knew what they were hitting.”

In parallel news, the Secretary of State threatened North Korea. On his first trip to Asia this week, Tillerson had declared that diplomacy has failed to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, and that a new approach was needed. On Friday in Seoul, he warned ominously that all options were on the table to counter the threat from Pyongyang. President Trump weighed in Friday by goading China over Twitter for not doing enough to help prevent its ally from “behaving very badly.”

What if these were connected? What if this was just a coordinated conspiracy to frame North Korea and to give us an excuse to preemptively attack them and remove the threat. Another part of the government could easily have worked with the Secret Service on the threat to give the attack a public start, and then arrange an attack on Trump Tower that looks like it was from North Korea. We would then have to respond.

But its only a theory.

Budgets and Donations

Another headline I saw this morning talked about a significant surge in donations to Meals on Wheels after they were threatened with funding cuts. There have been similar significant surges in donations to Planned Parenthood. Environmental organizations are seeing donations surge. ACLU is seeing memberships and donations surge. Non-profit news organizations are seeing donations surge. NPR, NY Times, WSJ — all surging. On the other side, there has been a significant drop in gun and ammo sales since the election, although the NRA reads the stats differently.

What if this was the plan all along? What if Trump is making all these outrageous budget plans specifically in order to make people treasure the endangered organizations more, and to get them more money in donations?  He then lets Congress eviscerate the proposals, simultaneously convincing the arch-conservatives he tried to do the right thing, getting them to change Congress to be more right-wing at the next election for voting them down (thanks to gerrymandering), and bringing in more funds for the organizations.

But its only a theory.

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What Is The Right Road to Take?

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Mar 16, 2017 @ 8:28 pm PDT

Along with Donald Trump’s budget proposal comes news of significant cuts at the EPA, both in research funds and in regulations. An article in Governing Magazine uncovers an interesting debate regarding those cuts with respect to infrastructure funding: Is it right to gut environmental regulations that both delay and raise the cost of infrastructure funding in order to get more infrastructure faster? Quoting from the article:

President Trump has made no secret over the course of his campaign and early administration that he thinks it takes too long for infrastructure projects to get approved and built. A report from The Wall Street Journal last week indicated just how much he’d like to speed things up: The president wants states to start building within 90 days of getting federal money, compared with the years it can take for projects to start now.

The biggest hold-ups for most projects, though, come from federal — not state — regulations. State and county transportation officials say federal environmental, safety and workplace reviews can more than double the time it takes to complete a project.

But, they add, a GOP-controlled Congress and new administration provides the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate many of those long-standing environmental laws.

“We are not talking about trying to go out and gut the environmental process,” says Tim Hill, the administrator in charge of environmental services for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). “That’s not what states are about. They support clean air. They support clean water. They want to make good, common-sense decisions. But they want common-sense decisions in a process that allows flexibility.”

Of course, many environmental groups are wary of any major changes to landmark environmental laws, especially because Congress has already sped up many parts of the reviews in recent years.

“They already won,” says Scott Slesinger, the legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The problem isn’t and has never been [environmental reviews] that have caused the delays. It’s other stuff. It’s money. It’s local opposition. It’s supply-chain problems.”

This is something that can be clearly seen in California. Before the days of the EIR, roads could be built anywhere and everywhere, seemingly. Since the EIR process started, there are meetings and research and reports even to widen a road in place. The article talks about the many regulations and laws affecting infrastructure funding, from the Clean Water Act to the Endangered Species Act to the National Environmental Policy Act to the Buy American provisions. Quoting again from the article, regarding the NEPA:

The scope of the review depends on the size of the project. Projects that cost less than $5 million — which are the vast majority of transportation projects — are generally excluded from the impact study. Slightly larger projects, like a new intersection or highway on-ramp, require a more involved process called an “environmental assessment.” The biggest projects, like ones that require new rights of way, require a full environmental impact statement.

It’s the biggest projects that tend to get the most attention, and they’re the ones with the longest approval process. For projects approved in 2011, for example, the average time the NEPA process took was more than six years.

Congress responded to criticism about the lengthy reviews when it wrote its last two major surface transportation funding bills in 2012 and 2015. Federal lawmakers, for example, expanded the types of projects that were exempt from the reviews. They also allowed states to conduct their own NEPA reviews on behalf of the federal government, which California, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Utah have opted to do. Hill says Ohio saved $4.6 million in the first three months of doing the reviews itself.

So what do you think is the right answer? Do you think infrastructure trumps environmental quality. Literally?

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