Archive for February 2017

Down Under Bathrooms

February 28, 2017

As I await boarding my plane back to the US, I read (via internet) that a Federal Judge has intervened in a transgender bathroom use case. President Trump has already reversed an executive order mandating that a transgender person be allowed to use the bathroom of their sex identity, so is this Judge’s ruling a step towards a Constitution test of transgender rights?

Frankly I find this matter silly and representative of a weak puritanical mind set. The hysterical claims that allowing transgender people to use the bathroom opposite their birth sex would loose on the public sex deviates determined to rape or abuse little girls. Hmmm.

The world has other ideas about bathroom (toilets) usage. In most of Europe, China, Japan, and yes, even Australia, toilet access often involves a “two holers” with locking doors, neither of which is designated with a male or female sign. I guess Australians feel that a locked door is sufficient and with solid walls, privacy is adequately protected.

The real hoot about this controversy is to consider the example where a transgender male (born female), now fully transitioned wearing shorts, a tank top, and sporting facial hair pops into a female restroom (following the law) but against her wishes. Do you think the other restroom users would feel more or less comfortable with “him” in their restroom?

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Proud To Be An American Down Under

February 28, 2017

I have been traveling in Australia for just over two weeks. Tomorrow, I will be returning… on a long couple of flights. With me will be wonderful memories of a warm and friendly country full of polite and generous people. Oh, and did I mention that in addition to polite and generous, Australians tend to be direct and forthright? Well, Australians do tell you as they see it.

Today I was visiting the Museum of New South Wales in Sidney. It is a fine museum, not the Louvre, but it is a serious museum with art from around the world as well as a large collection of Australian (and Aboriginal) art. Wanting to learn more about Australian art and artists, I joined a Museum tour focused upon Australian art and artists.

The tour guide asked the assembled group where each was from. London, Perth, and Philadelphia were the opening locations along with a number from Sydney. No sooner had I announced “Philadelphia”, someone from Sydney asked, “have you been following the news from home while on your Australian visit?”

She followed up with “nothing seems to be going right, President Trump and La La Land”.
Her comments seem to summarize many Australians views of President Trump… a cockup.

For Australians, the Academy Awards mistake of announcing the wrong “best picture” award is inexplicable and must be assigned to the category of pure incompetence.  Australians view President Trump in the same league as the Academy, totally unreal and a cockup in motion.

Internet art (not found in museums) from Europe which I have seen is full of unflattering Donald Trump caricatures depicting Trump are vulgar as well as showing him out of touch with reality. In a short time, President Trump has made “America Un-great Again”.

America, fortunately, is much more than President Trump. I remain confident that DJT will self destruct, either by himself or at the hand of fellow Republicans following the 2108 midterm elections. Hmmm.

In the advice department, if you travel, once again it may be beneficial to bring a maple leaf symbol and claim to be a Canadian.

More From Down Under

February 26, 2017

Traveling in Australia, one can not escape that Country’s struggle to deal with the Aboriginal people and the past conflicts white society has had with the indigenous people. All the lecturers our tour group has met speak of the frustration and to some degree, shame, Australians experience when they reflect upon the past. Hmmm.

Much of Australia’s past (1800s to 1950s) sounds similar to Americas experience with our “first nation” people.  Make promises (treaties), take their land, and then renege on the promises. Indigenous people were told that their ways must give way to the new or face getting wiped out.

Today, aboriginals are the poorest educated, most unemployed, many (but not all) experience drug and alcohol addiction, and too many suffer diseases such as diabetes associated with the white man’s diet. Aboriginals are almost all poor and depend upon government support. The cycle of poverty, despite governments efforts seems well fixed into Aboriginals’ fate.

Aboriginals are jet black in skin color, easy to pick out of any group. Aboriginals, however, who are descendent from mixed race marriages, are less black and future generations will have even less color, making it possible to pass as a white, all other things being equal. Is this important?

Maybe.

The Australian indigenous people are not a monolithic group. Although they are all different from the non-indigenous Australian population, they vary widely amongst themselves and reflect the impact of which parts of Australia they have lived in. For example, in the northeast part of Australia (Queensland), indigenous people have existed with ample food easily available. Consequently, traveling large distances for food or water was less necessary to these Aboriginal tribes.  Where as, in the Northern Australian territory, in the great “bush” with long droughts and little food or water, Aboriginals had to move and move often. In both cases, the indigenous people placed high value on family and cultural customs which bound their families and tribes together. What so wrong with that?

Hmmm.

Australian “Aboriginals” largely remained stone age hunter gatherers even after the arrival of non-indigenous Europeans. While “Aboriginals” are not “stupid” or uneducable, (and make pragmatic decisions around natural cures), indigenous people also make choices which make them less competitive in education or professional pursuits. In today’s society, most indigenous people fall further and further behind in what one would recognize as the modern world. The degree of uncompetitiveness may vary but never the less, too many Northern Territory or Queensland indigenous people fall behind, for example, despite the Government spending large amounts of money to support improvements in Aboriginal life prospects (as judged by non-indigenous Australians).

America has indigenous people too. Is this a comparison Americans should look to?

Hmmm.

The American indigenous person is aka the American Indian. Although different, many American Indians also believe strongly in their heritage and its way of living. And to be sure, these life styles compete poorly with western life styles. Not surprisingly American Indians have important values which could benefit the greater society too. Proper regard for the environment is a good example.

In the US, American Indians, similarly to the Australian Aboriginal have experienced a “lose-lose” experience with white America. Despite much Government spending, American Indians suffer from a cycle of poverty, seemingly unable to break out. The Federal Government spends, the first nation people take, and not much changes.

Hmmm.

Does this cycle remind you of the African American?

African Americans make up disproportionately more people carrying the label “member of the cycle of poverty”. The Federal Government spends money trying to provide the means for African Americans to break into the mainstream, poverty free. Unfortunately, too many find it too difficult to change life styles and while some succeed, too many others fail.

Comparing the Australian aboriginal’s cycle of poverty to the US’ African American community, one finds some African Americans are quite successful by any measure. On the other hand, some African Americans lead both personally and collectively self destructive lives. And most of these sad and destructive life choice decisions were made by the victims themselves. So whose problem is that?

If there is any basis for studying the Australian Aboriginal situation, the message for America might be government policy alone can not break a cycle of poverty, the individual must make the decision to buy in or accept the consequences. For government policy makers, policy cannot be expected to effect social change without those involved as full partners.

Hmmm.

Great America From Down Under

February 18, 2017

I am traveling presently in Australia. The experience has been both stimulating and at the same time therapeutic. There is hope that rational political views can dominate a society.

Thankfully Australian television news offers only snippets of American political drama yo remind me of the opposite. Regretfully Australian international news reports, augmented with internet news, has allowed me to experience the perverse contrast between a sane political system and the pseudo-“Make America Great Again” crowd.

Australia may not be a great power, or great in all things. But in terms of government civility and general hospitality of its population, it offers American visitors a breath of fresh air. To be sure, for xenophobes, religious zealots, and anti-gays, Australia is far less attractive than the Trump/GOP Sponsored America.

The big Australian political debate is whether the country’s energy goal should be 30% renewable or 50%. Cannabis, women and gay rights, and voting requirements are all settled issues. Australia does struggle with integrating diversity into its society but the government’s public face is four square behind respect for all groups.

Conversely, the US public face which most of the world saw as wise and prudent (and maybe a little too timid) under President Obama is flabbergasted over who this person Trump is, and what in the world he is really about.

IMO, all the signs of a George W Bush Administration are present. Trump/GOP combo will with one hand emasculate regulatory and public service departments, and with the other cut and dice Americans by vilifying the media, demonizing certain religions and creating a false fear around Mexico and Mexicans.  The call is clear to take sides.

What does the future look like?

Most likely unforeseen events (like Katrina, Iraq, or the mortgage scandal)  will bring the Trump/GOP regime to its knees. Whether it is hubris or just plain incompetence, Trump et al will reap the consequences of a short sighted, mean spirited populous agenda.

The Infield Cutters

February 10, 2017

There is a type of person who earns the title “infield cutter”. Imagine a foot race where the objective is to run around an oval track from the starting line to the finish line. The “infield cutter” starts the race normally, but part way through, the “infield cutter” does just that. The runner leaves the oval track and runs across the infield emerging on the other side, much closer to the finish line. The “infield cutter” then races to the finish line claiming victory.

To the “infield cutter”, the victory is both earned and deserved. To most others, the “infield cutter” is a cheat or a fraud.

President Donald Trump’s campaign and early days as President have been marked with frequent and outrageous examples where the term “infield cutter” seems appropriate. The infamous travel ban is a case in point. Had the Trump White House have taken time, considered the nature of each of the 7 failed States, an executive order could have been crafted that increased the level of vetting to “extreme” while still accommodating current green card and visa holders AND his order would have been seen as a legitimate use of executive power.

Instead, the Trump Administration pushed ahead conflating presidential powers and sound sensible reasoning. Today, the Administration continues to argue the President has the power to issue a ban despite the Constitutions various requirements for no religious test and due process.

Infield cutter have a giant blind spots. Rules do not apply to them and when they cross the finish line, they think “the ends justify the means”. An even bigger blind spot is the infield cutter do not recognize that the rules are now changed for everyone else too.   In the future, it will be much harder for the infield cutter to pull off the same type of win.

With someone like Donald Trump who has consistently claimed facts unsupported by factual evidence, a dangerous precedent will be establish if courts simply accept his “trust me, I am exercising my Presidential powers”.

Trump, more than anyone else in recent history needs to be forced to play by established rules. Trump regularly discredits the media, has spoken against science (and facts), has identified minorities for special treatment, and is speaking louder and louder about law and order. All of these actions were followed by the Nazis.

Hmmm.

The Betsy DeVos Message

February 8, 2017

Vice President Mike Pense cast the tie breaking confirmation vote clearing the way for billionaire Betsy DeVos to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education. Did the first time in history tie breaking vote by the Vice President send a message? And if so, what was it?

Without a doubt Vice President Pence’s vote signal that the greater Republican team won the Presidency and Congressional control and the new sheriff is going to have his way.

What else could the Vice President’s action signaled?

Any previous nominee who had engendered so much criticism and faced the prospect of not even receiving unanimous Senate republican support would have withdrawn their name to minimize the embarrassment to her party. But not Betsy DeVos.

Ms DeVos is an extremely wealthy evangelical zealot. Not only does she hold religious views, she is wealthy enough to force them on others by the strength of her wallet. DeVos’ career has coupled frequent generous donations to politicians and a well financed advocacy for charter schools and education vouchers. DeVos, herself, is not an educator. She is a advocate.

So what is wrong with an advocate having a turn as Education Secretary? Aren’t the real controls of public schools held by the States and local school districts?

The Secretary of Education has very little statutory authority. The position’s power lies in recommendations and promises (or denial) of Federal dollars to induce States and School Districts to follow her recommendations. Simply being an advocate is not IMO a good enough reason to deny Ms DeVos the cabinet post. Being a religious zealot is, unless there is some way Ms DeVos could and would recuse herself on education matters involving religion.

That’s not going to happen, largely because that was the main purpose of nominating DeVos in the first place… a polite thank you to evangelicals and conservative Catholics.

So again, what was the DeVos confirmation message?

How’s this for the message. “The Republican Party is prepared to support legislation which advantages certain distinct groups of supporters regardless of the impact upon everyone else”.

Remember that message and watch what will emerge as the “replace” component of “repeal and replace”. You can go the bank right now that Republican healthcare legislation will cover fewer Americans, provide less coverage, and offer the wealthiest significant tax savings.

Unlike healthcare, Federal Education Policy is far less likely to produce profoundly adverse impact upon American students’ educational experience in the next four years. States and local districts play too significant a role and Federal money which might sway local districts is still small compared to districts’ total budget.

The Trump/DeVoss Education Policy will attempt to reward supporters, be neutral to most Americans, and not surprisingly, ignore the needs of the most vulnerable. Remember that when one third of the Senators come up for election in 2018.

The Art Of Speaking Past The Issue

February 6, 2017

Republican leaders have, somewhat embarrassingly, joined President Trump in denouncing the Federal Court stay of his travel ban against 7 majority Muslim countries.  One can almost hear these GOP leaders saying “here we go again”.

Clearly the President has the authority to deny entry to America based upon national security considerations. And for sure there are precedents. Do you remember how the country was made safe when Yusuf Islam was denied entry by the Bush Administration? There is just no telling how much damage Cat Stevens could have done if he had not been denied entry after the 9/11 attacks.

The Bush Administration’s actions which limited “free speech” contribution from the English singer was condemned by many but not contested as unlawful. The President, wisely or not, was acting as he thought best for the national security.

The Trump Administration claims it is acting similarly, for national security. In a holier than thou tone, Administration officials stress the chief executive has vast authority over the borders. These spokespersons emphasize that the ban in temporary and within the traditional Presidential powers. Hmmm.

Maybe but maybe not.

The Constitution’s first Amendment precludes the use of a religious test as the basis of excluding any foreign visitor or immigrant. But wait, Trump’s people say this ban is about “terrorists”. And what religion do terrorists in these countries have?

As I recall, Donald Trump, the candidate, made a point of emphasizing “radical Islamic terrorists”. How can one minute someone be a terrorist (radical Islamic terrorists) and not the next minute also be a Muslim?

In addition to this paper thin rouge claiming terrorist were not a religious test, the ban blew right by another principle, “due process”. All the people coming from these 7 countries had US approved visas. What process was used to determine the visas were defective?

The ban is patently a “Trump Whistle” designed to prove at least two points. First, Trump supporters can count on him to fulfill his campaign promises (as dubious as some may be). Second, as chief executive, Trump will not be restrained by past practices, political norms, or Constitutional constraints without a fight.

Once again, the public must keep both eyes on the President. It is inconceivable that the bogus justifications for the ban are in and of themselves important.

What is not inconceivable is that the ban can serve to prove “Trump can do it” and “now you see it, now you don’t” on some other issue the Administration will try to slip by the public’s attention.