Wednesday, June 28, 2017

New Leadership

Someone, Steve Benen on The MaddowBlog, wrote an article about how Trump’s ignorance on health care could have real consequences. And, how we might use it as yet another example about Trump we might laugh at.

When I read the article, I thought, “surely you jest. His ignorance on health care is accompanied by his ignorance about dozens of vital policy issues of national and global significance.”

Yes, it is sadly true that we laugh at Trump a lot. Our bank of comedians have been having a field day over the past 6-9 months. But even they, in between telling jokes about the Drumpf, are throwing up out of sight of the cameras. Laughing at him is all we can do at the moment, aside from “Resist”, which hopefully many are in fact doing.

He is so ignorant on so many subjects that all I can think about is mushroom clouds appearing over the horizon. He and his colleagues are bent on killing people with their health care bill. But he may well kill even more should he decide that he really prefers war to discussion. In North Korea, in Syria, in almost anything that affects Russia, he poses a threat to humankind.  Make no mistake, Trump is potentially a murderous tyrant, and he is amply supported by the likes of Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, et al.  I realize they don’t think of themselves that way. They just want to “get the government off the backs of the American people”.  By that, they really mean that they want to stop using tax dollars for almost anything short of war. They want to return most of the tax dollars currently paid in by their rich owners and get the rest of the war machine paid for by the middle and lower classes.

Trump seems not to know that the so-called health care bill is in fact a giant ATM machine intended to give the 1% much of their money back.  But he really seems not to know anything. He can’t/won’t read, remember?  People who brief him have to speak at the level third graders might understand.  So he is a problem across the board—on almost any subject of importance.

But that is what keeps us focused on our ignorant President. He is such a convenient target of scorn and humor. And we prattle on about impeaching him, as though that would solve all of our problems. We have Nixon on our minds. But who is standing behind Trump? Mike Pence. And Mike would not ease our concerns; in fact he might exacerbate them.  He is, if anything, to the right of Attilla the Hun.  And then there is Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan. The lineup ready to move Stage Front is large and terrifying.

But it is not just who might replace the Drumpf that is the issue. The central problem is that we no longer have anyone responsible left in the Halls of Congress who will stand up for the people. Republicans seem no longer to care about the American people, about the Constitution, about our Nation as a whole. They just do not care.  And that is our problem.

How we arrived at such a tragic juncture is a subject of much debate, beginning with the tragi-comedy that goes by the name of the Democratic Party. Whenever I see Nancy Pelosi in print, I am drawn to this thought—“the sky is falling. Send me $5.” Nancy seriously needs to move off the stage. And we railed a lot about that national conspiracy of money that did in Hillary during the election. But, to be fair, Hillary did herself in. She ran a terrible campaign and then blamed it on Trump and Comey. Yes, they did their part, but she was the mistress of her own fate. Hillary also needs to move off the stage.

Then we need to decide whether there is a serious political party left. Bernie shredded the middle and left of the party. I will ignore The Greenies. They had an effect surely, but they have as much right to the stage as anyone else.

We need responsible leadership, vaguely in the middle of the political spectrum, folks who can speak to both the left and to the right (ignoring Ryan of course, because he apparently only speaks to God).

But I still do not seen anyone that speaks to that role. Elizabeth Warren . . . Kirsten Gillibrand, maybe. It is surely way past time an intelligent woman takes that center stage, even if Hillary was not that woman. But we seem to have become a nation of small-minded people, more interested in money than ideas. That needs to change, or we are doomed as a nation. We are now slipping down the hill towards second world status.  Is there anyone out there who cares enough to arrest our decline? I hope, but am no longer optimistic.
Think people, think. If the men of America are failing us, now is the time for our Women to move into the spotlight and assume their rightful place.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dust in the Wind

I was looking at a review of a book by Thomas E. Ricks, CHURCHILL AND ORWELL, The Fight for Freedom. It is a book, I am reminded, of two people who, even today remain well known, famous even.  And then, I began thinking of all the people not so famous. And I thought of my father, now remembered (even if faintly) by me alone.  No one else on earth has even a slim memory or mind-picture of Rudy—Rudolph (NMN) Schmidt, born in 1901, somewhere in New York City. Did he have any school chums back in, say, 1911-1915 who might remember him, when he might arguably have attended some school?  Likely not, since they are long gone, along with Rudy who disappeared from view in the late 1950s.

Think about that for a moment.  Someone was born, lived for a while, married and produced several children, and now has disappeared from all conscious memory, save one aging soul.  And soon, that limited memory fragment will also be gone and that person, once a Rudy, will be as though he never was.

I know that those of the religious persuasion believe that Rudy is lounging on a cloud somewhere, doubtless playing his violin, which he once played while on earth.  And that, those of us who once knew him will be able to chat with him up there, so as to inquire why he was such an asshole while here on earth.   But the rest of us hold no such thoughts, so for us, he has simply disappeared.

I cherish photographs, especially ancient ones, because, in part, they refresh my aging memory bank. When I want to reconsider my Grandma Inglis, who left while I was standing by her side in 1951, I simply find a photograph, and her image is reconstructed, and then my memory bank kicks into action and she is, for the moment, alive again, and memories flow into my active mind.

I am also drawn, however, to this notion that we are all temporary dalliances with nature. We arrive here, we play for a bit, we forge memory bits with other temporary creatures, some human, and then we disappear.  We are as “dust in the wind”, or as Kansas wrote and sang:

I close my eyes, only for a moment
And the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind
Same old song, just a drop of water
In an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground
Though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind”

As children grow into adults and enter through passageways—graduation, marriage, parenthood—I am drawn to the thought that we need to understand the dust that we are. And that Donald Trump will as soon be dust in the wind as everyone else. He will also leave behind a memory legacy—bits in many memory banks. But none will be happy or positive bits, and I wonder . . . does he know that? Does he care? Is he capable of understanding that he too, is dust in the wind?

So, I need to keep thinking and keep remembering. Remember the good thoughts. And there are many such dustlets. While they are now gone, they forged little happy bits in my head. And that’s a good thing.

And then, someday, I too shall be dust in the wind.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Morons Will Out

It is increasingly hard to write a blog about our lives in 21st century America. I mean, how does one shift away from our idiot President?  He is a daily source of corrupt, or just idiotic sayings—“Covfefe” anyone?? I keep wondering, did he do this moronic tweeting at 3:00 AM before he was President, or is this a function of him thinking he is important?

We have issues of great global importance and our President is fixated on his TV ratings.  It is increasingly clear that he tweets because he cannot write. Tweeting requires little beyond a 3-year old’s vocabulary and understanding of the world. One does not need to communicate in complete sentences, or even complete thoughts . . . or indeed any thoughts at all.

Floating around the world are issues such as:

Catastrophic global climate changes

Terrorism run amok

Collapsing American infrastructure

Bipartisanship run amok, wherein nobody is running our ship of state to benefit the people

Russian interference in our democratic system of governance

Collapsing international systems of cooperation

One could go on and on, because our President seems not to understand our system of government at all, so he has no clue how to oversee it, including how to staff the oversight functions. His appointments to run important Federal functions have been uniformly catastrophic. When you have Federal roles in subjects like education, environmental controls, public health, et al, and you appoint people who are fundamentally opposed to any federal role, you are abdicating your responsibility. Whatever their reasons for voting for him, it seems unlikely that people voted to elect Trump because they wanted no public education of their children, or no health care, or smog levels rivaling India or China.  He seems to want to turn over to private interests all functions of government. What could go wrong with that scenario?

I think back to Jimmy Carter, and the end of airline regulation. We had, until then, a relatively healthy and productive airline industry—two international carriers, a half dozen major national carriers, and numerous regional carriers.  I flew then, often, both domestically and internationally.  Flying was, if not fun, at least something you need not agonize over.

Then Jimmy deregulated the industry. Almost immediately, the predators, omnipresent in any private enterprise, began taking over. And the industry began collapsing from within.  Low cost became the sole criterion of interest, and service went to hell in a hand basket.  We stopped flying altogether in 2001 when one carrier, USAIR, dumped us in Baltimore, halfway to our destination, and told the passengers, “sorry ladies and gentlemen, that we could not get you to where you wanted to go.”  FULL STOP. No mention of buying us dinner until they could board us on the next plane to our proper destination.  The plane’s population simply disappeared into the airport to figure out their next course of action.  We decided then that the airline industry had collapsed from within. It has not materially improved since then.

Similarly, we seem to be on course to transfer responsibility for educating our children to private interests.  For reasons I fail to understand,  rather than focusing on figuring out how to improve our system of public education, a decision was made to shift resources to a system of private “charter” schools, some non-profit and some for-profit.  What our ruling geniuses seemed not to understand is that the national systems of public education really produced the middle class in America, and that the middle class produced the powerhouse known as America.

It is not that public education was problem-free. On the contrary, public schooling has been ailing for many years, decades even. Many schools are superb, among the best in the world. But many, especially within low income neighborhoods, have been failing their students for many years.  Part of the problem is attributed to inadequate funding, and part to student inability/unwillingness to learn. Low income children often live within families that were failed by the system. Without a tradition that values education, children would often rather do something else.

Mind you, the systems of public education, while still public, have been financed largely by state and local tax dollars. There is Federal money in the system, but the contributions by state and local governments means that differences in per pupil funding are inevitable.

So, our system was ripe for change. But change requires thought. Abandonment, e.g., let’s shift to private schools, publically financed, so we can stop worrying about all the ugly details, seems attractive to legislators who choose not to think a lot as a vocation.  One would need to commission studies in all districts to look for insights into success and failure, and to tease out the reasons. Then productive solutions might be possible.

On average, charter schools seem to do no better, and might be doing worse than public schools, so this solution seems a non-solution.  Trump and his mistress Betsy Devos, a person who has zero experience with public schools, seem to prefer to ignore reality and embark on a whole system of let’s pretend schools—think Trump University.

Similarly, Trump is now proposing turning our air traffic control system over to private enterprise –oh that should make air travel so much better, and he seems to be toying with the idea of turning the job of infrastructure development over to the private sector.  Ike helped to build the US interstate highway system. Trump may build the Trumpway system—use your own imagination.

So, is the private sector never better than a public sector? Well, no, but private vs. public often depends on the function. The public sector doesn’t do profit-motive real well.  We have some considerable evidence that a wholly public sector approach is less than perfect—the Soviet state comes to mind.

I have worked over many years in and with the for-profit sector, both large and small, with public sector entities, and with several levels of government.  One outcome of that working life is that I came to understand that size often matters more than the public-private designation—as entities grow in size they become more bureaucratic and, therefore less flexible and less responsive. 

One difference between public and private is that private is often less hindered by rules, and therefore, becomes more flexible in pursuing areas of interest developmentally.  And that thing, the profit motive can be either a huge plus, or a significant minus when pursuing operational changes.

My observation caused me to think about and pen a few thoughts on the issue of balance. In connection with a perception of corruption within the public sector, I wrote:

In          "in economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy.

2.                We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.

3.                We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources.

4.            We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits. Otherwise, leave Social security alone.

5.                Republicans, continue in their zeal to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to repair the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a dropout rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people. Charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, and worse, fake private schools that are on-line, are not an answer.

6.              We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. 

      What we continue to need is watchful citizens—citizens who are willing to question both private commercial interests and public government interests. Corruption is a problem that will always be with us, so long as we have serious economic imbalances and so long as we have citizens who are basically dishonest—remember both the corrupters and the corruptees are dishonest.  Both need to be exposed and punished. It is why, by the way, that we continue to need whistle-blowers.  Say what you will of the Assange-Manning-Snowden groups, but they have informed us of some very unpleasant things about ourselves. Transparency is key here, and we definitely do not have transparent systems in either the public or private realms (thanks again Supremes).

     We all need to stand up and be counted. And that means we need to vote, regardless of the efforts by the GOP to prevent folks from voting.  If you don’t vote, you will get the government you deserve.”

Indeed, voting seems the only recourse to what we are now viewing almost daily. The parade of Trumpies continues to dazzle and baffle us. Even our battalions of comedians are hard pressed to keep up with his barrage of inanities.  But, in between his 3:00 AM twitterati utterings, he actually does a few things—like appointing a new loser to run something he/she hates in government, or proposes to fix something by shouting out a solution that is 90% lie/exaggeration and then retreating from the scene to leave us yelling or laughing, or shouting obscenities at him.

But voting to eliminate him takes time—he isn’t running again until 2020 remember. And his GOP henchmen, Ryan, McConnell, et al, seem entirely disinclined to muzzle him, even if they could. They keep approving his parade of malenfants to run our government, and they continue not to disavow his efforts to destroy America.  So, impeachment, regardless of probable cause, seems unlikely in the extreme. Burt even if they did impeach him for cause (so many causes, so little time) we are left with his basket of deplorables sitting in line behind him. Does anyone really believe that Pence would make a better President?

So, there seems no plausible solution short of continued resistance—manning the barriers of protest until it is time to vote all the rascals out of office—including Ryan and McConnell.  Some folks will get hurt in the process, but resistance is not free.

So, welcome to our world of hurt folks. Stand up and keep trying to shout him down. He is a menace. He must be resisted. Or we will become a banana republic sans bananas.