Archive for December 2015

Feeling Uncomfortable

December 31, 2015

Recently Friends Central, a Suburban Philadelphia private Quaker High School removed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its teaching curriculum. The school said the book, with its wide use of the N-word, made some of its students uncomfortable. The school went on to say it thought removal was not censorship but rather a testament to listening “to our students”. Hmmm.

Any school’s teaching curriculum can only be so big. All the possible important pieces of literature cannot be included, simply due to teaching time. So one must assume that Friends Central had included the classic Huck Finn for an academic reason. To remove it because some students felt uncomfortable must raise eyebrows. Aren’t students in school to learn from those who presumably have the benefit of greater knowledge and experience?

Huck Finn is considered important because it describes a segregated America which current white generation have not experienced. While the text may make some African American students uncomfortable, do these students (and their adult supporters) recognize that Huck Finn does not endorse segregation. Rather Mark Twain uses the book in an attempt to open the minds of white Americans to a period of insensitivity and hypocrisy. Hmmm.

This past year has also seen a number of college protests (Missouri, Ithaca College, Virginia Commonwealth, Yale for examples) where African American students have alleged school policies were not inclusive enough and racial insensitivity made them feel uncomfortable. Some of these “uncomfortable” situations lead to the resignation of senior Administrators. These incidents, however, differ markedly from removing a classic text from the curriculum. The college incidents involved the overall learning environment while the Friends Central involved learning materials.

Feeling uncomfortable in the learning process is a natural by-product of education. Feeling uncomfortable in a social setting is not a necessary condition. Improving the University level social setting could spell a more productive learning environment. At the end of the day, however, the burden to learn still falls back to the student.

Feeling uncomfortable with the teaching curriculum begs the question of whether the material was academically worthy in the first place. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a well established reputation.

If Friends Central felt there was a book more important than Huck Finn and used the new book to replaced Finn in the curriculum, the decision could be tested on the basis of academic merit. Removing a book for “comfort” reasons begs the question of whether Friends Central has “dumbed down” its curriculum in an effort to achieve comfort.

Is that what learning is about?

High Fives Yet… Hmmm, Maybe Not Yet

December 30, 2015

National Public Radio aired a report this morning which should awake the sensibilities in anyone who cares to be sensible. The report covered  Presidential strategies in the face of political opposition. The case in point was President Eisenhower’s response to American panic when Russia began to flex its muscles in the early 1950s.

President Eisenhower was well aware that the Soviet Union’s strategic intent was ultimately to defeat the capitalist West.  The Soviet Union thought the West would tire of constant little wars and communism would triumph over capitalism in the market place.

Eisenhower concluded that the least desirable option was to allow America to get involved in a string of land wars. Eisenhower saw the uncertainty of these types of conflicts and that they would drain US resources.  Even more to the point, these little wars could lead to a nuclear confrontation.

Eisenhower elected to avoid land engagements and confront the Soviet Union with nuclear containment.

Critics, the same type as the neoconservatives who championed the Iraq invasion and occupation, railed against the weak and feckless policy. Many openly championed a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. Hmmm.

History, not without a few white knuckle moments, has proven Eisenhower’s direction a wise strategy.

President Obama has also taken a lonely path with his Middle East strategy. Obama has withdrawn combat troops from Iraq (and is well on the way in Afghanistan) because local ground wars are loosing propositions. Instead, President Obama has offered military support, including air power, to Middle East nations willing to fight terrorists.

The President’s strategy has been described as wrong, indecisive, and feckless. GOP candidates have promised “carpet bombing” and more troops to root out ISIS, and… (there is nothing offered about the future from these candidates).

In the past few days, Iraqi troops have retaken the city of Ramadi from ISIS in a campaign which combined American support (air power) and Iraqi “boots on the ground”. Hmmm.

It is too soon to declare victory for the President’s strategy. Time will need to show Iraq’s resolve to push ISIS out of the rest of Iraq and that the Shiite dominated central Government can govern the Sunni western Iraq. But what a good beginning.

Presidential strategies often are lonely positions to hold. With political opposition who value winning at all cost, the responsibility of leading our nation in a world still populated with nuclear weapons is a serious task.

President Obama seems at this point to be the only adult in the room.

Listening But Maybe Not Hearing

December 29, 2015

Over the past few months most observers have been fascinated with the appeal Donald Trump was having with he public. “Appeal” might be a generous descriptor. With Trump it appears you either love him or hate him. Hmmm.

Now, at least in Iowa, Ted Cruz is seeing his chance to bask in the public spotlight. So what’s so strange about these events?

Both Trump and Cruz are considered “outsiders”. Even though Cruz is a US Senator, he is strongly disliked by his fellow GOP Senators. Trump is an out and out outsider and the plausibility of his candidacy is scoffed at by Party leaders and Congressional caucus members. So why is the public responding more to these “outsiders” than the tried and true mainstream GOP types?

Public opinion poles have long reported single digit favorability for Congress so it should be no surprise that someone considered a fresh face would get a open reception. Trump and Cruz have not set the world on fire with their proposals but that does not seem to matter. These two outsiders are not the current crop of insiders.

For the past 8 years, the GOP has been the party of “no”. Republican Congress members have opposed economic stimulus, tried foolishly to reduce healthcare coverage, advocated programs which would lead to reductions in Medicare and Social Security, and proudly demonstrated their anti-global warming views. The GOP, however, has been a party of “yes” for a long list of lobbyists and special interests (as have also the sitting Democrat Congress members).

The American public may not be the sharpest knife in the draw but Congress’ two faced behavior can’t be missed.

Congress and the GOP hierarchy have been listening to Trump and Cruz and have dismiss their candidacies. That misses the point. Congress and the GOP bosses should instead be listening closer and try to understand why the Trump and Cruz supporters are motivated. For the party’s future health and longevity, the GOP needs to know what average people are searching for, not just how the GOP candidate can trick the voter and elected… which would continue the same games with lobbyists and special interests.

IMO there is little chance that Trump or Cruz supporters necessarily reflect what’s best for America. So why should GOP leaders pay attention?

An outsider victory could endanger the current gravy train carrying Congress members (and their supporters). The very reciprocal arrangement with Congress members and the current lobbyist and special interests is in danger. (You give me money and I will give you a favorable vote for your issue).

The GOP is capable of sound governance but not if it continues with its current policies and strategies. This is a moment to stop whining and begin to really listen.

Long Shot Insight

December 27, 2015

Senator Marco Rubio is a leading candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination. His candidacy is still considered a long shot and a more probable outcome would be the VP slot. His Presidential nomination campaign shows, however, how difficult life is “to be for this, while also being for that”.

Senator Rubio has gotten himself caught up in a crack of once having advocated for comprehensive immigration reform and now finding himself out of favor with many GOP voters. For most politician this is no real problem. Rubio just needs to say “my thinking on this matter has evolved” and “I now favor a step by step process”.

Rubio, however, has difficulty explaining his new thoughts, most probably because he really does see the merit of comprehensive reform and he must also realize the Hispanic vote will be swayed more by his former position. Hispanics will see Rubio’s flip-flop as “immigration was good for me but now its time for it not to be good for you”.

Senator Rubio’s problem gets even more complicated. Cuban refugees come in two varieties. One group saw the wisdom in Fidel Castro’s revolution and the others still would like to see former Dictator Fulgencio Batista return to power (from the dead). Cuba was and in many regards still is today a land of the haves and have nots. The difference today is the haves are from a different class.

Rubio has found that Florida’s Cuban money and support comes mainly from the “we like Batista” camp and therefore normalizing relations between Cuba and the US is untenable.

To a Presidential candidate with any sense of history, normalization should be a no brainer. Either you are for it (or at least can accept it), or you say nothing. Senator Rubio, however, has not found this an easy transition to make. In fact he has taken the unusual step of putting a hold on Rebecca Jacobson’s nomination as Ambassador to Mexico. Hmmm.

(Remember Mexico which is that Country just south of the border where refugees and undocumented immigrants are lining up to cross our borders.  Being without an Ambassador seems anti-productive.)

Jacobson is a career State Department officer who is fluent in Spanish and has served previously both Democrat and Republican Administrations. Why the hold?

According to news reports, the hold is due to Jacobson’s efforts in negotiating the details of the recent Cuban normalization. Hmmm.

Polls indicate that most Cuban Americans as well as most Americans overwhelmingly are in favor pf normalizing relations with Cuba. Simple logic would suggest normalization was long overdue for the island which is 90 miles off the Florida coast. For 50 years Cuban sanctions have not brought about a change in Cuba’s leadership and there is no reason to believe the next 25 years would be different.

So, Rubio is showing American voters a “malleable”, but not vary clear thinking mind. Admittedly, political trade offs are always fraught with pitfalls. Rubio’s position of comprehensive reform and his Cuban retaliation will ensure that if nominated Marco Rubio will not receive a large percentage of Hispanic votes.

And my guess is his hold on Ms Jacobson’s nomination along with his views on women’s rights will not do him well with women voters either.

Many people have felt the GOP primary season is far too public and far too long. Here is an example which might suggest that given enough time, even a person with poor eye sight can see the spots on these leopards.

The long shot is simply not ready.

Obama’s Legacy

December 23, 2015

The news media seems fixated on what will constitute President Obama’s 2 term legacy. Would it include the Affordable Care Act, the nation’s recovery from a near 2009 depression, the achievement of energy independence, the growth of green energy sources, the shutting down of two wars, the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact, the Iran nuclear settlement, or the Paris Environmental agreement. Hmmm.

If you listen to the GOP, the bag representing Obama’s legacy is not only empty of accomplishments, the only contents are pieces of black coal. This should be no surprise since the GOP has been the “just say no” loyal opposition since President Obama was elected. In this matter Republican opinion is sorely compromised.

To the extent that President Obama is worrying about his legacy, this is truly wasted energy. Only with the passage of time will the impact of actions President Obama instigated or did not take be seen. For President Obama, he should endeavor to keep the same course and same demeanor.

Those who think well of his time in office will not think more kindly and those who think poorly are unlikely to change (until someone less desirable takes office).

In comparison to Bill Clinton, Obama’s years have neither the taint of impropriety nor the sleaze of sexual scandals. There is even stronger contrast with George W Bush. President Obama cannot be accused of being intellectually lazy nor with making huge, unthought through foreign policy initiatives.

While many may still prefer to have a beer with “W”, nothing like the calamities of invading Iraq, sleeping through Hurricane Katrina, or allowing the nation’s financial institutions to bring the US (and the world) into recession and nearly a depression has taken place during President Obama’s watch.

For my money that’s not too bad for a legacy.

Lindsay’s Gone

December 22, 2015

There is a reason John McCain and Lindsay Graham are seen together so often. In many ways they are cut from the same cloth. Both are career politicians, both are mostly hawkish, both, in comparison to the emerging next generation of GOP leaders, are relatively center right. For reasons that are unclear, Lindsay has been running for the Republican Presidential nomination and on Monday he suspended his campaign.

Graham has said he entered the race in order to inject and emphasize foreign policies concerns. In Graham’s assessment, he has been successful in changing the conversation. (I wonder whether Paris and San Bernardino had anything to do with the uptick in foreign policy discussion?) One might also assume his 1% or less poll numbers might have also influenced his decision. Hmmm.

Think back to the Presidential debates in 2008, and ask yourself whether any of the current GOP candidates can measure up to Mitt Romney’s credentials?  Mitt seemed heads and shoulders ahead of Lindsay in Presidential bearing and would leave the other candidates in his dust too.

But that’s another story.

While Graham considers himself a center right candidate, his hawkish policies were inconsistent with Americas current place in history. The Country no longer sees itself as the world’s policeman and even more to the point, does not see the Middle East as anything but a nuisance.

Remaining militarily strong should not be the question, rather the choice should be why to use our military and how to fund the deployments.

Many Americans are beginning to realize that the military does not represent Americans.  In its current “all volunteer” status, only a few get the chance to fight. Sending other Americans’ children to war for the whims of neoconservatives and aging politicians seems shameful.

Had Lindsay remained in the race I wonder whether he would have backed up his aggressive foreign policy positions with a call for a universal draft and special war taxes so our children and grand children would not have to pay the war bills?   Hmmm.

Merry Christmas Donald

December 21, 2015

The big question ending 2015 and going into 2016 might be, “is Donald Trump clever enough to snatch the GOP nomination and become the outsider nominee”? Is Trump clever, observant, ruthless, or possibly asymmetric enough to win a primary contest for which he has no qualifications. Hmmm.

Trump has combined crowd appealing rhetoric where he has attacked one minority after another and in doing so connected with a fear or prejudice within the GOP electorate (and maybe wider than that). His comments have been dubbed “politically incorrect” by his opponents. This epitaph, his opponents are beginning to realize only delight Trump supporters even more.

It is particularly obvious in Jeb Bush’s personal attacks on the Donald. Bush’s comments are having no impact on Trump’s ratings and instead reinforcing the public’s perception that Jeb is a light weight in this contest. Hmmm.

Now Trump is welcoming his town meeting attendees with a warm “merry Christmas” and then wondering out loud why we don’t hear “Merry Christmas”. Most public spaces have moved to “happy holidays” which is more accommodating to other non-christian faiths. Trump has once again struck at a potential third rail without hurting himself. Hmmm.

Trump’s strategy remains high risk and it is still possible that he may step over the line and begin to turn his supporters against him. But if experience to date is any measure, it is going to take a pretty huge gaff to upset his apple cart.

At the beginning of the primary process, the GOP big wigs boasted about what a high quality field of candidates they had this time around. What Trump’s campaign tactics are showing is that the GOP field is cluttered with unready, unprepared, and/or unwanted candidates. As each candidate approaches Trump’s number one position, the glare of the public spotlight shows that candidate as less than Presidential timber.

The most amazing aspect of Trump’s surge is that the general GOP platform has not come into play yet. So, foreign policy, healthcare, path to citizenship (comprehensive immigration reform), tax breaks for the wealthy, and the laundry list of anti-women policies have not influenced primary voters. All this lies ahead in the general election.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone should Trump water down or outrightly disavow any of these far right proposals in the general election.

So, it is a warm “Merry Christmas” to Donald Trump and thanks for an entertaining fall season. Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton, should, in the privacy of their homes, break out the bubbly and welcome the holidays and the new year with a very optimistic outlook for next November.  Come January, however, Hillary had better keep her eyes open because Donald may not be going away.

What Are The Candidates Thinking?

December 16, 2015

Last evening Republican Presidential hopefuls debated again. CNN scored well on ratings and the network was generally given positive reviews by media observers. But what would any disinterested party say about the candidates’ message, and what they must think of the electorate?

The overall theme seemed to be “fear”. According to the candidates, Americans are fearful and the GOP candidates are here to help.   One only has to look as far as President Obama to know the reason why there is so much fear.  Hmmm.

Each candidate sketched his/her view how terrorism and immigrants were at the root of this fear.  Until a functioning plan was in place, the candidates were sorry to say, Americans faced real danger. Hmmm.

A quick search of the internet will reveal the following list of how Americans die each year. Thanks to the CDC, the following causes should be of interest:

  • Heart disease: 611,105
  • Cancer: 584,881
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767
  • Diabetes: 75,578
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149
  • Traffic accidents: 32,000
  • Shooting Deaths: 32,000

Of course, there is no good reason for any preventable death. But immigrants and terrorists do even make the score card.

If these candidates were serious about preventable deaths, they would be boast how if they were President they would declare war upon heart disease, cancer, or any of the other diseases and illnesses.  Have you heard that with this group?

So what does the debate say about the GOP and the electorate? The word can be nothing more than disdain. The candidates must think Americans are ignorant of simple facts and easily frightened with fear laced words.

Hmmm.

Making Sense Of Donald Trump

December 14, 2015

Sometimes when danger is near, our senses are their keenest. While some panic, others remain calm and see the greater picture through the angst and uncertainty. The 2016 GOP Presidential Primary challenge represents one of these situations. Which candidate will voters choose (and why)?

Of the GOP group, Trump’s candidacy has been shear theater playing out in the 7/24 news media. Playing a sometimes a serious actor, Trump manipulates the media, confounds his opponents, and delights his audiences. Given a choice Trump picks the politically incorrect option, gets the headlines and interviews to follow.

At this point in the GOP race, Trump leads with almost 30% preference. Ted Cruz and Morco Rubio are keeping close but the establishment “blue chip” rivals are bogged down in single digit numbers. Projecting this forward, while a long shot, it is not unreasonable to see Trump winning the GOP crown. Hmmm.

The GOP inner circle is near apoplectic over this possibility. While Trump winning the GOP nod is still uncertain, Trump winning the general election is out of the question given the national demographics. Or is it?

A President Trump requires him gaining the GOP nomination and winning the general election against someone other than Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, or even Joe Biden do not possess the demographic “lock” that Hillary offers. Illness or the onset of questionable long term health problems could cause Clinton to withdraw or drive Democrats to nominate someone else. Under these circumstances, Donald Trump could win.

Here why.

Fear and disillusionment.  The “American Dream” seems gone. No longer do most Americans think the pie is being divided fairly. No longer do most Americans think that next year will bring them more than this year. And most obviously, no longer do Americans trust that Congress will bring relief anytime soon if ever.

In this despair, Americans (like most people around the world) are willing to relinquish their personal beliefs in favor of someone perceived as more powerful who promise to fix things.  Too many Americans are ready to accept Trump’s blame of this group or that one as the root of all that is wrong in America.

Around the world and through out history, in tough or toughening times, people have turned to authoritative leaders. In France the right wing National Front lead by Marie Le Penn is gaining national support on a platform Trump would be only to happy to endorse. To the French, the essence of France is in danger of disappearing, growth is slow, and the future is uncertain. This is a great worry.

The American Dream began to slip away 50 years or more ago. The dream was built upon America’s manufacturing dominance which reached its zenith following World War II.  Combining this decline with the steady maturity of “developing nations”, the stage was set for more economic equality among world nations. Globalization, which involved American business “outsourcing” work (read jobs) to developing (read lower wage) countries was a natural event.

What happened next killed the dream. The increased productivity associated with globalization was not shared equally amongst Americans.
Business and political leaders beginning in the 60s, gradually changed tax codes, securities regulations, and labor laws where numerous advantages accrued to companies and Wall Street types. Instead of sharing productivity gains with workers, the gains shifted in ever increasing amounts to senior executives and investors. The consequence has been a stagnation in the average wage for some 50 years while the nation’s wealth migrated to an ever decreasing few really wealthy people.

The formula for voter discontent is quite simple. Wages remain flat (or decline) while cost of living increases. To be sure, there are many Americans who have the skills to hold onto good paying jobs but their ability to gain entry to the super rich echelon is vanishingly small. In the eye of most Americans our politicians have been complicit.

The GOP, which has championed tax relief which favors the wealthy for the past 30 years, has put itself on the wrong side of history. Donald Trump has cast himself not like these other GOP “cookie cutter” candidates. In this way Trump can say he’s not an insider, not responsible for stagnated wages, and someone Americans could trust.

Please note that the vanishing American Dream is a product of both political parties. Democrats have simply been more attentive to women, immigrants, and marginalized groups. Democrats preach that they are the real friends of the middle class and working people, but other than entitlements there is little evidence to support this claim.

Back to making sense of Donald Trump.

Trump has routinely made outlandish statements and cleverly built his own persona.   Trump picks one minority group and blames them for what ever comes to mind but his intention is to connect voter’s feelings to the lost American Dream and this minority or that one.

Trump has manipulated the media into providing him an outrageous amount of free air time and print space. It makes, at this time, no economic sense for the media to bite the hand that is feeding it.
The take home message is Donald Trump is a very important person.

The real issue is not Trump.

Income inequality is the real issue and it is killing the American Dream. Our politicians are hog tied by the need to solicit and accept large special interest campaign donations.  The pols find election and reelection easier by taking “safe” positions on controversial issues (while the American Dream slips further away while we watch.

What is needed, IMO, is at least to begin a shift in the opposite direction aimed at achieving tax, securities, and labor laws more similar to the 50s and 60s.

The Donald Trump phenomena is a wakeup call to what lies just below the surface of American public opinion. Democracy can be over powered by fear.   Unless there is hope that tomorrow will be better, fear mongers will have free reign.

While hope alone does not produce results, Trump’s embrace of fear has  produced (short term) results. It will not make much difference who becomes the Republican or Democrat next President if we do not recognize the underlying cause of America’s fears over the lost American Dream.

 

Making Sense Of Ones Life’s Work

December 11, 2015

Watching tonight a public TV presentation of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, I can not help but wonder what did those great artists think when they first burst onto the music scene. Did they think their first success would lead to more and in years ahead, and people would enjoy and value their music?  Or, did they look to the future and think they would age , gray, and get raspier in voice so they had better live life to the fullest?

Who knows but I doubt they gave it a thought. Few, hmmm, maybe no one thinks about getting older or what impact they will have made by that time.

Be aware, making sense of life, is not to be confused with the great mysteries of life (like the purpose of life). Rather it is about what I do today and what ramifications that act will have in the future.

Did Crosby, Stills, or Nash ever think about what impact their music might make on future generations, or how their music (and its success and their resulting fame) might make their lives more easy or more complicated? I wonder whether CSN ever wondered how their music might make others feel in the future?

Hmmm.

Looking to current affairs, there are certainly explanations for why someone running for President of the United States, a land built upon civil liberties, individual freedoms, and the value of immigrants might take an excursion and denounce these principles. There are no good reasons, of course, but their are plenty of self serving ones. I just wonder whether these candidates are connecting their words with the history that lies ahead of them?

To be sure, there is wisdom, at times, in the words “live today, to die tomorrow”. If you succeed in this goal, you could live to be a very old person. Someday, however, one might reflect upon why did I say that or do this?

Looking at Crosby, Stills, and Nash, today they simply do not look like the ones who made the name Crosby, Stills, and Nash. That’s life, people get older.  Despite the aging, the audience was enthralled to see and hear CSN and treat their memories to a wonderful experience.

Our great universities, or for that matter any institute of learning would do well to figure out how to share with their youthful students the continuum of life, the role of history, and how a success today, while seemingly valuable and important, is too often a drop in the bucket from a life time perspective.

We are seeing too many businessmen and members of Congress who are acting on self interest without acknowledging the long term impact.

I wonder what they will think when they some up their life’s work sometime in the future?