Observations Along the Road

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

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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Be Careful What You Wish For

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 14, 2017 @ 11:14 am PDT

userpic=trumpFor years, Republicans and Libertarians have campaigned on the platform of smaller government. Government is too big! It spends too much! It has too many needless regulations that hamper the freedom of business to innovate (and make profits, never forget the profits). This was a stated goal of the Tea Party: Reduce government. This has been the goal of the Norquist pledge: Reduce taxes, reduce government. But, of course, they all knew it would never happen so it made a safe campaign promise that suckered drew in the voters. Because, heaven forfend, if it ever happened the people would realize all the benefits that these hated government services provide. Further, they would come to realize that the states cannot afford to provide them through internal budgets alone; remember, the poorer (often “red” states) depend on funds from the richer (often “blue” states) to provide these services through the balance the Federal level provides.

Then along came Donald Trump. A wealthy businessman (successful is up for debate) invested heavily in real estate. A businessman trained to get what he wants, run businesses into the ground, and complain about federal regulations that impact his ability to do business and make money (never, ever, forget the make money part). A businessman who believes that he would be more successful if he didn’t have to ensure safe workplaces, provide medical care, ensure that his construction preserved the environment. A businessman with wealthy partners, often heavily invested in energy industry that depend on the raping of the environment to make money (never, ever, ever, forget the make money part). Further, a businessman with charisma and TV smarts, a businessman who knows how to make an audience believe he is talking to them, and looking out for their interests.

Donald Trump and the Republicans/Libertarians. A match made in heaven. I know. Jesus told me about it when I called his 1-900 number the other day. It’s just like a fairy tale.

Of course, those who have seen Into the Woods knows that fairy tales aren’t pretty. Often what you wish for has unforseen consequences.

The Republicans (at least the voters) wished for Donald Trump. They got him. Their wish came true. And along with Trump came his minions and advisors, publicly dedicated to the task of “deconstructing the administrative state”. Of course, that’s a “con” job, and when you remove the con, what do you get? Destruction of the administrative state.

This becomes clear when one sees the outlines of Trump’s proposed budget. CNN describes it thusly:

His first budget — expected to be unveiled later this week — will mark Trump’s most significant attempt yet to remold national life and the relationship between federal and state power.

It would codify an assault on regulatory regimes over the environment, business and education bequeathed by former President Barack Obama, and attempt to halt decades of steadily growing government reach.

[…]

Trump will highlight his priorities by upping military spending by $54 billion, and is also expected to boost funding for homeland security — money that may be used to toughen immigration enforcement and to build his wall on the southern border.

The President will cement his “America First” policy by slashing State Department funding, foreign aid spending and grants to the United Nations, officials have already made clear. And nowhere is his assault on government expected to be as dramatic as at the Environmental Protection Agency — which is bracing for a massive reduction of its budget.

[…]

Another key Trump campaign promise was his vow to his voters, especially those in blue collar Midwestern swing states that he would not touch entitlements like Social Security or Medicare — vast repositories of taxpayer dollars that with along with interests on the national debt make up two-thirds of the federal budget.

That means that discretionary spending is vulnerable, especially to an administration that wants to make a political point.

[…]

Such warnings are why agencies like the EPA and the Education Department that have long been in conservative crosshairs are particularly vulnerable in the Trump era. Federal funding for other Republican targets — like National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities may also be under threat — even though they account for a comparatively small area of overall spending.

Americans want clean water and clean air. They want all those cute cuddly animals they see in nature documentaries. They want to be able to go out to National Parks and see the beauty of nature. But the environmental regulations that give them all that? Those are what Trump is cutting.

Americans want their children to be educated, and to get a quality education so they can get good jobs. The desire for the best education possible is true whether they send their kids to public, private, parochial, or home school. I guess there is nary a parent that says, “I want my kid to grow up stupid, like me.” When they live in poor areas with substandard education — either public or private — they want money redistributed by the Federal government from richer areas to pay for it. Gutting the Education department and ceding this to the state? That cuts those funds.

Americans want peace. They don’t want to send their sons and daughters to fight (and die, never forget die) in foreign lands. War is averted through diplomacy, not military might. Cutting the State Department and Foreign Aid cuts diplomacy. It makes the world less safe.

But what about jobs. President Trump campaigned on the promise that he would create so many jobs. Job creation would be yuge. So yuge you wouldn’t believe it. So what is he doing? According to the Washington Post:

President Trump’s budget proposal this week would shake the federal government to its core if enacted, culling back numerous programs and expediting a historic contraction of the federal workforce.

This would be the first time the government has executed cuts of this magnitude — and all at once — since the drawdown following World War II, economists and budget analysts said.

[…]

The cuts Trump plans to propose this week are also expected to lead to layoffs among federal workers, changes that would be felt sharply in the Washington area. According to an economic analysis by Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, the reductions outlined so far by Trump’s advisers would reduce employment in the region by 1.8 percent and personal income by 3.5 percent, and lower home prices by 1.9 percent.

Among Trump’s expected proposals are an increase in military spending of $54 billion, more money to start building a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico, and the creation of new initiatives that expand access to charter schools and other educational programs.

To offset that new money, Trump will propose steep cuts across numerous other agencies. Although final numbers remain in flux, his advisers have considered cutting the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by $6 billion, or 14 percent, according to a preliminary budget document obtained by The Washington Post. That is a change that Trulia chief economist Ralph McLaughlin said could “put nearly 8 million Americans in both inner-city and suburban communities at risk of losing their public housing and nearly 4 million at risk of losing their rental subsidy.”

Preliminary budget documents have also shown that Trump advisers have also looked at cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s staff by about 20 percent and tightening the Commerce Department’s budget by about 18 percent, which would impact climate change research and weather satellite programs, among other things.

Trump and his advisers have said that they believe the federal workforce is too big, and that the federal government spends — and wastes — too much money. They have said that Washington — the federal workers and contractors, among others — has benefited from government largesse while many other Americans have suffered. Federal spending, they have argued, crowds the private sector and piles regulations and bureaucracy onto companies.

Here’s something people don’t often think about: government employment is white-collar welfare, a gigantic jobs program. Cutting the Federal workforce sounds good, but at its heart it is a massive layoff by the world’s largest employer, causing people to lose their incomes, health benefits, and much more. When you are a dad or mom and your employer cuts your job, it doesn’t make a difference whether you are at GM or the EPA. It is a job — it is what pays your bills. So Trump, who promised to create American jobs, is destroying them.

But that’s not all he is destroying. To fund an ineffective wall, he is taking people’s homes. He is decimating the funding for public housing, and threatening the subsidies that enable people to have roofs over their heads. He will not only create more jobless, but more homeless people.

He is also making people less safe. Cutting climate and weather research cuts the very satellites that tell people when major weather events are happening, that tell farmers when to plant, that ensure our safety from natural disasters. All to build a wall.

And then there is healthcare. Trump promised a program that was better than Obamacare. He promised more would be covered for less cost. But what is he actually proposing? According to the CBO, via the Washington Post:

Twenty-four million fewer people would have coverage a decade from now than if the Affordable Care Act remains intact, nearly doubling the share of Americans who are uninsured. The number of uninsured people would jump 14 million after the first year.

The Republican legislation would lower the deficit by $337 billion during that time, primarily by decreasing Medicaid spending and government aid for people purchasing health plans on their own.

Premiums would be 15 to 20 percent higher in the first year compared with current Obamacare premiums, but 10 percent lower after 2026.

Older Americans would pay “substantially” more, and younger Americans less.

The plan to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding would leave many women without services to help them prevent pregnancy, resulting in “thousands” of additional births, which would in turn jack up Medicaid costs. Sandhya Somashekhar reports: “The analysts estimated that excluding the women’s health organization from the Medicaid program for one year, as congressional Republicans have proposed, would particularly affect low-income areas and communities without many health care options, leaving 15 percent of those people ‘without services that help women avert pregnancy.’ The reduction in services would reduce federal spending on Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, by $178 million during 2017, the analysts estimate. But they believe the savings would be partially offset by the fact that there would be ‘several thousand’ more births paid for under Medicaid, which already picks up the costs of about 45 percent of all U.S. births; many of those new babies likely would qualify for the Medicaid program.”

The mechanism for persuading healthy Americans to stay insured would be largely ineffective, and it would ultimately lead to about 2 million fewer Americans buying insurance each year. Juliet Eilperin explains: “GOP lawmakers are determined to repeal the individual mandate.… But by jettisoning what has grown over time to a hefty penalty, several experts said, lawmakers have crafted a financial incentive that many consumers are unlikely to find compelling. Under the House GOP proposal, any consumer who opts out of getting insurance would have to pay a 30 percent surcharge on one year’s premium upon re-enrolling.

The deficit would be cut, but at what price? Despite the promise, less people would be covered, more people would be uninsured, and often, the coverage would be worse. This would hurt the American people.

As I said at the beginning: Be careful what you wish for. The wish for a smaller government, lower taxes, and less regulation will make our nation worse off. People will lose jobs, homes, and lives. The quality of life, for the most vulnerable segments of our population, will be significantly worse. The rich, and possibly the upper middle class. They’ll make out great (unless they have government jobs). We’ll go back to the days of dirty air, polluted water, expensive medical bills, poor schools, and lack of enforcement of constitutional protections regarding the government supporting particular religions and preventing discrimination. Not a better world at all.

But government will be smaller and cheaper. Right. Perhaps this is: “better, faster, cheaper” — pick any two. Better is likely not true. So what about faster? Nope — all we get is cheaper. One way Trump is working to reduce government is by not filling lower tier positions. This is creating significant problems and slowing processes down.

As the New York Times chronicles at length in a new report, the Trump administration is having the slowest transition in decades, far behind where his predecessors usually were seven weeks into the job. Trump has filled most of his Cabinet, but he has not nominated anyone for more than 500 other vital posts.

That means that in department after department, countless operations are on standby or moving at a glacial pace because the president has failed to appoint the senior personnel required to keep the train rolling.

Further, the federal hiring freeze he instituted means that as people retire or leave for other positions, they aren’t replaced. What will that mean for getting your passport processed by when you need it? That farm report? That federal rebate?

So is Trump’s election a fairy tale? Will we live happily ever after having gotten the wish for a smaller, deconstructed government? Some will of course. The wealthy always find a way to win. But those of us who aren’t the top 1%? Will we live happily ever after?

Sure. Trump has promised it. We all know how well his promises work out.

P.S.: Your toaster oven is watching you.

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Lies vs. Falsehoods

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 11, 2017 @ 11:03 am PDT

The words we use are vitally important; I often say that 90% of everything is how we say things, not what we actually mean. I remember learning this ages ago when looking at the papers with respect to Israel and Vietnam: different impressions come from the use of “freedom-fighter” vs. “insurgent” vs. “guerilla”.

A recent article related to President Trump brought this back to mind. In a musing yesterday, Mark Evanier wrote:

I think though we sometimes devalue the word “lie” by applying it to anything your opponent says that you can possibly spin as untrue. Years ago, a gent who worked for the National Weather Service told me, “We’ll predict a 60% chance of rain for Los Angeles…and then even if it rains in the valley but not in the basin, we hear from people in the basin who accuse us of lying. Not even of being wrong, which we weren’t. They say we lied.”

As a staunch believer in the maxim, “Never attribute to deviousness, that which can be explained by incompetence,” I often think the “L” word is inapplicable. People — even people I don’t like — do make mistakes. They misspeak. Or they make logical assumptions which turn out to be wrong. A lot of people have jumped on Trump for spelling the word “tap” with two P’s in a recent, infamous tweet. These are apparently people who never made a typo themselves.

I, too, believe in the maxim (which I call an adage) of never ascribing to malice what one can ascribe to stupidity. There are kerfuffles I see every day that people jump on as malace — Spicer’s flag pin being upside down, Kellyanne Conway sitting on a sofa in the Oval Office informally. Folks — that stuff doesn’t manner. They are errors of stupidity, not intentional malice, signals, or disrespect.  They aren’t worth the time to discuss.

Mark’s article was triggered by an opinion piece in the Jewish Journal wondering whether Trump was worse than a liar. Here’s a quote from that article:

Midway through the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last week on “Maintaining Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump,” Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens tried to summarize his in-depth analysis of President Trump’s dicey relationship with the truth.

“If I had to sum it up in a single sentence,” he said, “this would be it: Truth is what you can get away with.”

When I heard that, a light bulb went off. I thought of a book I read years ago, “On Bullshit,” by former Princeton professor and moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt.

One of the key insights in the book is that bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,” Frankfurt writes. “Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”

When we use the word “lie”, there is an implicit assumption of intent: the speaker knows the truth, and is intentionally telling you something other than the truth. But if one is truly incompetent, truly stupid, truly ignorant, truly lazy enough not to know, then is that false statement a lie or just evidence of stupidity. Do we believe that Trump knows the truth? Or is he just making it up as he goes, bullshitting us because that works in business, and most people are too stupid to do the research to find him wrong. In business, you pull values for things out of thin air, and if your buyer believes you, you win.

Believing the lie and getting wrapped around the wheel of bullshit brings me to my other point: When have we (and by “we”, I mean us liberals) fallen into the same tropes that other side used against Obama? I look at my news feed on Facebook, and I see people believing all sort of bullshit about Trump, and getting all worried about truly minor things. I see folks being Chicken Little running around. I’m not saying it may not be justified. However, to an observer, it looks like the same scare tactics that the Conservatives used against Obama. Calling him names. Thinking everything is a sign of dictatorship on the way (the latest is worrying about the administration firing 45 US attorneys at DOJ, when this happens with every change of adminsitration and party).

There are plenty of things this administration is doing that are highly problematic. Gutting science. Gutting health care. Gutting programs designed to protect the American people from all forms of fraud and abuse. Gutting social programs. Dr. Martin Luthur King Jr. once said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”. Have we forgotten that?  But worrying about a flag pin? Feet on a sofa? The first lady’s tits? C’mon.

The change we need isn’t found in the sofa cushions. The change we need is found in fighting for the things that really matter.

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Fundamental Differences

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 08, 2017 @ 12:32 pm PDT

userpic=divided-nationThere’s an old joke that goes: There are 10 types of people in this world, those that see the world in binary, and those who…

I’m here all week folks. Try the Haddock sandwich. It’s delicious. Early in the week.

But seriously, there are significant dichotomies in thinking in this country — so much so that purple America has all but disappeared. We divide ourselves into conservatives vs. liberals, Democrats vs. Republicans, Trump-lovers and Trump-haters, Red States and Blue States, and we no longer meet in the middle.

This was driven home by a post by Mark Evanier that I read over lunch, which talked about two types of healthcare providers: Those who are in it primarily for the money and those who are in it primarily to help people. He said it’s very important that when two or more doctors open an office together, they all be from the same mindset. He drew a similar dichotomy regarding the health care political debate:

There’s a bit of an analogy between the two kinds of doctors and the two kinds of politicians now debating health care. It’s not exact but certainly, the problem faced by anyone trying to craft an Obamacare replacement is that they’re trying to negotiate a compromise between two parties working at cross-purposes. One side doesn’t care if 10-20 million people lose their insurance and tens of millions more see whopping price increases. They don’t care as long as it doesn’t rebound on them politically…which it will. I don’t see how you arrive at a workable plan if you need to simultaneously please those who want a good government-monitored health care system and those who don’t.

I’ve noted a somewhat similar divide between conservatives and liberals — and note these are generalizations. Conservatives appear to be focused on what is in it for them: what will make their business stronger, what will increase their self-wealth, what will increase their self wealth even more if they become wealthy (the musical 1776 captured it well: they would rather plan for the possibility of being rich, than face the reality of being poor). Thus, they want to reduce corporate taxes, they want to reduce personal taxes, they want everything to be back on the individual and be the product of hard work and hard work alone. Work is its reward; a corollary  of that is no work, no reward. Liberals, on the other hand, think about the other first. They don’t have a problem with taking a little from everyone to help those without — be it welfare, the elderly, the veterans, providing training. Raise up all of society and everyone wins, not just me. Different attitudes, different to reconcile.

That difficulty in reconciliation is playing out in a lack of toleration. Whereas in the past we might have written off the dichotomy because we liked the person even if we hated the attitude; today, we’re quick to drop the ban hammer. Perhaps it is because Facebook and other social media make it so much easier to find new friends that don’t require the mental toleration effort. When faced with a friend with whom you continually butt heads, there’s not a lot of penalty by just ignoring them, by “unfriending” them on social media, by banning them from everyday contact — relegating them to be brief person-to-person contact where you feign politeness. I know I have to fight that tendency — I know there are friends who will constantly respond to my articles and disagree, and other friends for whom reading just raises the blood pressure. I’m sure some of them will comment on this disputing my points.

I’m perhaps too idealistic to believe that the conservative side has no empathy, no concern about others. Perhaps the circle they care about is smaller, perhaps their end goal is the same and we disagree only on the means to get there. But then again, perhaps they are just in it for themselves, and caring is only a veneer. But even when faced with that evidence — and we’ve seen it in a few leaders — it just goes against my fundamentals. But then again, a common complaint in college was that I was too nice.

But whether the “other side”, however, you see it, is good, pretending to be good, pretending to be evil, or is pure evil, we need to find a way to work things out and meet in the middle. Unlike some other countries, the two state solution is not an option for the USA (and there’s now even a debate as to whether it is even an option elsewhere).

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Compassion and Leadership

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 07, 2017 @ 11:39 am PDT

I’ve been increasingly dismayed by the hatred I’m seeing in political arenas these days, especially from those who profess to be Christians. Now, admittedly I’m Jewish and not an expert on Christianity, but my understanding is that Christ preached love, understanding, and compassion for people, and rallied against the moneychangers and those who accumulated wealth for wealth’s sake.

What brought this to the fore of late was reading the proposed GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The proposal, according to the LA Times summary, would ensure that no federal funding can be made, either directly or indirectly, by Medicaid to a healthcare organization that “provides for abortions,” other than those done in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. That not only defunds Planned Parenthood, but any hospital that performs abortion. Further, According to a House Ways and Means Committee digest, the measure forbids spending federal tax subsidies on health plans that include coverage of abortion, even if the customer doesn’t get an abortion. This denies women the right to a safe abortion guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, under those timelines — and that in many cases has the government interfering with the practice of the mother’s religion (which might permit abortion). Further, you would think that a group so concerned with the life of a child would ensure it is born healthy, if they are going to prevent abortion. But no. According to the summary, as of Dec. 31, 2019, ACA rules that required qualified health plans to provide hospitalization, maternity care, mental health services and other benefits would be sunsetted at the federal level. So not only is abortion prohibited, but there would be no requirement to provide maternity care. This isn’t compassion, this is hatred towards women.

Further, studies are showing that the new proposal will cost 6 to 10 million people their health insurance. It will raise premiums on older people. It will cost Obamacare enrollees about $1500 more each year. It slashes funding for vaccines and public health. The plan will be really bad for the sickest Americans due to the continuous coverage requirement. Oh, and it encourages health insurers to pay their top executives more.

This is just an example. Hatred from the Conservative side is rampant, and has been for many years. I’ve had conservative friends wish all liberals dead. I’ve seen hatred towards immigrant groups. I’ve seen hatred towards the poor. Yet these are from people who profess to be Christian, who profess to want to have Christian values throughout society. They are using Christianity as an excuse for their hatred, and that’s wrong. I know that’s not what Christianity teaches, as I have seen numerous compassionate Christians who are living that compassion every day.

In a VCStar interview with Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, he was asked about his passion and liberalism. I found his response quite interesting:

I also think for the liberal, it’s the willingness to take a chance, to share and to reach out and to find new ways to interact. I think the conservative mold is essentially to protect your resources or to protect what’s yours; and I don’t know if I should say this to a tape recorder because I don’t know when it’s gonna return to bite me in the ass, but I would say organized religion is very much the same way. When Luther nailed that note to the door complaining about the abuses of the church, he was also in a sense talking about the strict format that had to be obeyed, when really, his feeling was — and I think it’s gaining contemporary recognition — that spiritually, matters of the heart, are for us to decide individually, and that’s scary for the church because that means that essentially everyone is an angel. Everyone is essentially creating their own religion, and that’s scary for people who have put their faith in dogma and in routine. That’s not to say that I don’t have routines that I find comforting – and I’m sure that you do too – but when they exclude other people, create difficulties or lack of respect for other people, then I think we need to re-address obeying forms and start obeying the compassion in our hearts.

Compassion in our hearts. Our political system here in America is one that permits many spiritual paths, and explicitly recognizes that one group cannot impose a spiritual path on another. The Supreme Court recognized that when it found a compromise position on abortion: a point before which it was legal, and a point after which it was not. This is a clear middle ground between those who believe life starts at conception (a Christian view) and those who believe it starts when the infant takes its first breath (a Jewish view). Ultimately, however, it is not an outside party’s choice to make: it is the woman’s choice, in consultation with her spiritual advisors.

If our society is going to show compassion, it can’t be Dickensian, putting the poor in workhouses and letting people die if they can’t afford healthcare. That appears to be the goal of the GOP proposal — and this administration as a whole: benefit the wealthy, let those who have the privilege take advantage of everyone and everything that does not. That’s not Compassionate Conservatism — that’s “I’ve got mine, I’ll take yours”.

Some argue that compassion shouldn’t come from the government; it should come from the churches helping the people directly. Obviously, these people are not familiar with the teachings of the RamBam, Moses Maimonides, and his levels of charity:

  1. The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support someone by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .
  2. A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.
  3. A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.
  4. A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.
  5. A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
  6. A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.
  7. A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.
  8. A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.

Support from the government is at the first two: we know not to whom we give, and they do not know who gave it. Helping provide medical care and job training is above that — we help find them employment and strengthen their hands. The GOP proposal is at the bottom — inadequate giving and unwilling giving.

Our political leaders have a responsibility not only to represent their major donors — the people with the money. They have the responsibility to represent and protect the people with no voice, the people who don’t have the funds for PACs. When their compassion is only for the wealthy who look like them and who were raised like them, this isn’t a government of the people, by the people, and most importantly, for the people.

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You Have To Be Carefully Taught

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 05, 2017 @ 11:07 am PDT

userpic=divided-nationOne of the things that has truly dismayed me about our current political atmosphere between liberals and conservatives is the pure hatred between the groups. When I see a Conservative friend write about legislators scurrying like cockroaches after the President’s speech to Congress, and wishing that all libtards would die, does he realize he’s wishing death to a cockroach like me? When I see liberal friends refer to those who voted for Trump as idiots, does he realize he is referring to friends of mine?

This was brought to mind when I read the following paragraph in a recent article:

People don’t come out of the womb hating their neighbor. Hate is taught and learned. Hate comes from the inside. It’s felt and it lingers. Hate pushes you to find revenge for what you feel is unjust and unfair.

This was not an article about politics. It was an article about a white woman who married a black man, and saw the reactions of others. But the same notion is true. It is a notion that we see, alas, in our President — who when acting “presidential” calls for unity, but then goes out of his way to make outrageous claims about anyone who does not agree with him. We see it in his desire for a homogeneous society, a society where all immigrants subsume their cultural identity to the assimilated whole. We see it in his choice of advisors, who see this country as a white Christian nation — and work to bring that about.

What makes this country strong is diversity. Science shows us that diversity makes us better thinkers. According to that article:

The most successful civilizations throughout human history have demonstrated the ability — no matter how warily — to adapt through acculturation and evolve alongside others. The benefits of diversity today are largely acknowledged and often desired, as companies strive to innovate and political parties vie for voters. But the pushback against diversification, exemplified so powerfully in political upheavals in 2016, speak to the enduring fear of change and differences, even though the latter is often a societal concept, like race.

A similar message is echoed in today’s NY Times in an article about biracial people, such as President Obama:

What President Trump doesn’t seem to have considered is that diversity doesn’t just sound nice, it has tangible value. Social scientists find that homogeneous groups like his cabinet can be less creative and insightful than diverse ones. They are more prone to groupthink and less likely to question faulty assumptions.

What has made our political nature strong is our ability to find compromise between views. The majority does not have the ability to ramrod their choices through (or they should not). They have to find compromises — solutions that not everyone likes, but they can tolerate and live with. We have also had the ability to respect those we disagree with: to like them as people even as we dislike their politics.

We have lost that. It has been a slow process that started with the loss of trust brought on by Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, the campaigning tactics of Ronald Reagan, and the polarization that arrived with the election of Bill Clinton. It has culminated with the election of a petulant spoiled brat, who throws a Twitter tantrum everytime he doesn’t receive 100% adulation or adoration or get his way.

We have to find a way to restore the balance, to restore the respect. We have to break the cycle of hatred. We have to look past the labels to the people inside, and remember that we can agree to disagree.

It is only in this way that we can save our country.

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State of the Cheetoh

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 01, 2017 @ 11:12 am PDT

userpic=trumpGiven all my posts of last week, you’re probably wondering what I thought of the speech last night. I heard most of it while I was editing the MoTAS newsletter until the Internet decided to slow down and cut it off near the end.

First impression: Aliens replaced Donald Trump. As some commentators noted, this was the Presidential Trump who read from a teleprompter, not the Tweeting Trump who is off the cuff. Thus we had words from a speechwriter with a bit of Trump interspersed. This meant it was actually intelligible and parsed, which made for a much pleasant (although less humorous and painful) speech.

Second impression: There were actually some parts of the speech I agreed with. Some of what he said about his ideas for an ACA replacement superficially sound like good ideas. Some of his goals for improving infrastructure and our highways are great. I was surprised when he talked about clean air and clean water — those are good goals. His ideas about reaching out and trying to work together are good. The problem is: are they achievable? Is he budgeting for them, and will that budgeting work? So far, I see no evidence of that. He’s cutting the EPA. He wants to cut the funds for healthcare, which he thinks is complex. He’s talking a trillion for infrastructure, yet cutting taxes. He talks about working with the Democrats, yet continues to insult and belittle them. Right now, his good ideas are just words — I’ll believe them when I see the specifics. The LA Times headline said it best: His speech offered optimism, but little clarity.

But in other areas, he expressed policies and ideas that were abhorrent. I disagree completely with the notion and cost of a wall. I disagree with the statement that we aren’t vetting immigrants sufficiently, or that immigrants are the cause of all terrorist incidents. I disagree with a voucher approach that sends Federal dollars to religious institutions, or that takes funds away from public schools. Just like we pay for lighthouses and roads and similar services for all, we must pay for public schools even if we choose to send our children elsewhere. Educating the country isn’t “fee for service”, it is our responsibility to ensure a knowledgeable electorate so that we don’t up with elected officials like, well, the person giving the speech.

I disagree with his views on trade: making it more expensive for foreign countries to sell stuff in America doesn’t bring jobs to America, it just makes things more expensive for Americans. Similarly, penalizing companies for moving production out of America only is significant if that production is for America. Making things in foreign countries for consumption in foreign countries is good business, for the same reason that making stuff in America for Americans is good business. You would think he would be a good enough businessman to know that, but his experience is in real estate and marketing his name, not manufacturing.

I agree with removing the Defense Sequester, but hesitate on the military spending until I see where it is going. I don’t believe we necessarily need more hardware except as replacement and modernization. We do need more funds for cybersecurity. Note that I view the Defense Budget unlike most: to me, it is a white-collar welfare jobs program, putting highly skilled people to work in the interest of the Nation — either directly or through contractors. I am on that welfare.

I disagreed with his characterization of the previous administration and the state of the country when he took office, although I recognize that one can find statistics that support almost any interpretation of the views. There was a significant portion that viewed the previous administration as successful. As President, his job is not to place blame, but to make things better and fix problems.

He talked about cutting back government. He seems to forget that cutting back means putting people out of work. Government jobs are, first and foremost, well paying jobs. Government cutbacks are layoffs. If he is talking about saving American Jobs, he needs to remember that Government Jobs are American Jobs. Keep them, just make sure they are working for the American people effectively.

With respect to his Supreme Court nominee, I agree that he is a skilled jurist. But so was President Obama’s nominee. If you want to demonstrate that you want unity, either withdraw Gorsuch’s nomination and replace it with Garland, indicating you will nominate Gorsuch for the next vacancy, or make a commitment to nominate Garland for the next vacancy. That is how you will assure swift confirmation of your nominee.

I appreciated that he opened with condemnation of the recent hate crimes against JCCs and Jewish Cemeteries, although I wish he had explicitly called it antisemitism, and said that he explicitly repudiated any of his supporters who held such antisemitic views. In an ideal world, he would have said he would purge his administration of anyone who hated another citizen just because of their religion. Then again, that would mean that Bannon would have to go, and he and possibly Pence might have to quit. I could live with that.

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