Monday, January 16, 2017

Pay Attention to his Heroes

I wouldn't have hired him for any job I had to fill, let alone the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth. His supporters have looked past what are painfully obvious disqualifiers. One way to judge a person though is to look at who he admires and who he attacks. Below is an incomplete list with links.

Who He Admires
  1. Saddam Hussein, brutal dictator of Iraq
  2. Vladimir Putin, dictator of Russia who stole national assets and assassinated opponents
  3. Kim Jong Un, petty dictator of North Korea
  4. Benito Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy
  5. Muhammar Qaddafi, brutal dictator of Libya and supporter of
    international terrorism
  6. Chinese Government's bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square protest
  7. Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's 25-year dictator whose human rights record is among the worst in the world
  8. Bashar al-Assad, brutal dictator of Syria responsible for the horrific civil war there
  9. Adolf Hitler, whose speeches he kept by his bedside, according to first wife Ivana.
  10. Rodrigo Duterte, brutal Philippine dictator responsible for thousands of murders of citizens suspected of using drugs
An American president-elect who admires this many brutal dictators is an unprecedented danger. The world sees this, most Americans see it but his fans deny what is as clear as his racism and misogyny.

Who He Attacks
  1. John Lewis, hero of the Civil Rights Movement and partner of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. Meryl Streep, most renowned actress today
  3. John McCain, specifically for being captured and being a POW
  4. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor 
  5. NATO, the partnership between the US and Europe that has kept the peace there since WWII
  6. Pope Francis, because he criticized him
  7. The United Nations
  8.  Alicia Machado, beauty queen
  9.  Washington Post, CNN, ABC, CBS, New York Times, Vanity Fair
  10. Saturday Night Live 
  11. Two Billion Muslims
  12. Thirty-six Million Mexican-Americans
  13. Gold Star Parents of a Dead American Soldier 
  14. Ordinary Citizens who question him
The man will continue to do his utmost to undermine our nation's founding principles, beginning with free speech and freedom of the press. It's going to get scary to speak up but speak up we must.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Favorite New Year's Resolutions

It is that day.

Time to plan for 2017. There is much you cannot control, but there are also ways you can contribute to a better world. Here are some favorites of mine. Which are doable for you in 2017?

Your Health, Your Body
  • At the grocery store, begin shopping on the edges. Walk through all the perimeter departments -- produce, dairy, meat, deli -- before allowing yourself to purchase any of the highly processed items in the aisles.
  • Cut your sugar intake. I cut mine back this year to maximum two small sweets per day and saw my appetite diminish and 10 lbs go away.
  • Instead of dieting, set a goal to eat 7-10 servings (half cups) of fruits and vegetables every day. Doing so will cut your other snacks.
  • Get up out of your chair, at least every 20 minutes. Walk around the house, the office, get a drink of water or go fix your hair before sitting back down. 
  • Walk your dog. 
  • Commit to doing something creative every day. For me, it's quilting, gardening, cooking, photographing, playing piano, or writing. What would you do? 
  • Cook most of your meals at home. All those cookbooks on the shelf? Take one down.
Your Planet
  • Avoid over-packaged purchases. When you can't, open the package at check-out and burden the retailer with disposal. They'll get the message.
  • Don't buy synthetic fabric clothing. Plastic microfiber pollution is currently the worst plastic problem in our oceans, with millions of those fibers released in every washing. Buy organic natural fabrics or -- better yet -- only used clothing.
  • Buy used and recycled whenever possible. 
  • Fix what's broken instead of replacing it.
  • Spend time every week in nature -- take a walk, a bike ride, or put a hammock up and relax. The more nature you get, the more you'll want to protect it.
  • Support organizations that are working to protect our planet.
Your Community
  • Shop local first. Before looking for what you need at a big box store or online, see if an
    independent local merchant carries it or can order it.
  • Read and support your local newspaper.
  • Go to the theater, attend concerts, visit museums.
  • Volunteer. Give your time and your talents.
  • Greet and smile at strangers on the street.
  • Pick up trash you see.
  • Walk as much as possible, interacting with people along the way. Get out of your car.
  • Pick at least one local non-profit and set up monthly recurring donations at an affordable level.
  • Send one hand-written thank you note every week. Designate a day of the week to do this. You'll find it makes you feel as good as the recipient. 
  • Pick up the telephone and call a friend you haven't spoken to for a while. For no reason.
  • Every time you want to complain about something local, ask yourself how you can contribute to making it better.
  • Be kind.
  • Listen to a child.
Your Country
  • Subscribe to a newspaper or magazine that does independent journalism. Online or print -- either is fine. We will need a strong, free press.
  • Set up recurring donations to the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, Common Cause, Doctors without Borders, the Near East Foundation, or any organization working to do good work in the world. Even ten dollars every month makes a difference. Give more if you can.
  • Call decision makers -- Congress, agencies, businesses -- every week to voice your opinion.
  • Support progressive candidates early and vigorously. Get involved.
  • Write letters to the editor. I just did this morning.
  • Speak up for the vulnerable. Don't look away.
 All of these are fairly simple. Choose one, choose several, or add your own ideas below in the comments. 2017 will tax us all -- some in ways we can anticipate already, but also in ways we cannot.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Delete! Delete! Delete!

The federal government today has the most far-reaching power to spy on every single American citizen. Ever since the Patriot Act -- introduced initially by the Bush Administration and renewed regularly ever since -- your government has access to everything about you:
  • Facial recognition
  • Your social media history
  • Your medical and genetic data.
  • Your movements (if you take your GPS enabled phone with you or your smart car or if your police have license plate reading technology)
  • Everything that passes through your computer, phone or any other electronic device
"Knowing where a person’s phone is located can reveal sensitive information, like when they go to the doctor or psychologist, what political activities they engage in, who they spend time with, and where they sleep at night. Law enforcement agencies can often obtain this personal information without ever getting a warrant from a judge." ACLU
We know that the federal government has subpoenaed blanket access to your phone and computer from Yahoo, Google, Verizon and others. And we also know that when challenged, the secret court set up to hear such challenges has consistently ruled to allow the surveillance. All this has happened under Bush and Obama. Picture that same awesome power in Donald Trump's hands -- and that of his paranoid unhinged appointments.

Now imagine a search of that data on 300 million citizens for terms like Drumpf, Orange Hitler, or any other term that might uncover the new president's detractors. Once identified, cross-check those persons with other data -- who had an affair? who had a DUI? who was once fired? whose medical records show drug, alcohol, or mental health issues?

We know Trump will want to go after any who challenge him. He's already threatened the independent press, a small town union leader in Indiana, and a college student who dared to ask a question. We're next.

Only those currently inside the NSA, other intelligence agencies and their private contractors can prevent what is clearly coming. I appeal to those professionals. Only they can put a crimp in the ability of Trump and his circle of misfits to use megadata against their opponents.

Please, agents: Start deleting that data. Delete anything that isn't directly related to terrorism investigations. Delete access to information about me and other citizens. Delete the shame pipeline that would allow his minions to mess with people's lives.

Yeah, you'll be fired. Hopefully, your principles transcend those of politicians who think their jobs are more important than our nation. Get fired. Get a different job. Save the country.

There are only a few weeks to complete this vital work. Do it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Populism is Easier to Say than Xenophobia

This morning on Fareed Zakaria's GPS, Fareed made the connection between "populist" victories in the West and immigration. In countries where 22% or more immigrants reside, more than 50% of citizens express right-wing anti-immigrant sympathies.

That got me to wondering. Clearly the anti-immigrant passions were riled up in the US, mostly by middle class whites who believed that immigrants somehow harmed either the nation or their families. But what does the data tell us?




States with the most immigrant residents:
(Combined data from Wikipedia and Migration Policy)

U.S. Average:
May 2015 Median Hourly Wage: $17.40
Sept 2016 Unemployment: 5%

26% Foreign Born: California
Median Wage: $19.05
Unemployment: 5.5%

22% Foreign Born: New York 
Median Wage: $20.00
Unemployment: 5%

21% Foreign Born: New Jersey
Median Wage: $19.86
Unemployment: 5.3%

19% Foreign Born: Florida
Median Wage: $15.29
Unemployment: N/A

18% Foreign Born: Nevada 
Median Wage: $16.20
Unemployment: 5.8%

17% Foreign Born: Hawaii 
Median Wage: $18.63
Unemployment: 3.3%

16% Foreign Born: Texas
Median Wage: $16.61
Unemployment: 4.8%

15% Foreign Born: Massachusetts 
Median Wage: $21.91
Unemployment: 3.6%

14% Foreign Born: Illinois
Median Wage: $17.94
Unemployment: 5.5%

13% Foreign Born: Washington
Median Wage: $20.28
Unemployment: 5.6%

13% Foreign Born: Arizona 
Median Wage: $16.67
Unemployment: 5.5%
I find it interesting that eight of these eleven states are solid Democratic states, places where Trump's xenophobia did not resonate in spite of their high proportions of immigrants. And examining the situations for workers in these states, most of them enjoy wages above the national median, particularly the three with the highest proportions of immigrants. The unemployment picture however is less rosy, with the majority having higher rates of unemployment than the national average (which is now 4.6% nationally but was 5% when the most recent state figures were published).

And not a one of these states is among the direst poverty states. That sad reality is relegated to states with the least immigrants.

Looking historically, we see another interesting pattern. At no time in the last 166 years has the US exceeded the aforementioned 22% foreign born figure, but we have approached 15% at times. Here is that history:

So our peak numbers of foreign born were from 1860-1920 and from 2010-today. Both of those were times of intense national economic growth.

I have grown weary of the excuses made for Trump voters. Rural areas have not been left behind.
 Manufacturing jobs didn't disappear because of immigration or trade. The Democratic Party is not the one obsessed with "identity politics". Let's tell the truth here. Xenophobia, intellectual laziness, a preference for empty-headed bullies "who sound like me", and the convenience of fake news influenced voters. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Disembowelers

I'm a fair weather cyclist and not a very good one at that. My routes are chosen for the following key attributes: little traffic and mostly flat. But they still have hills -- mind you, not hills better riders would even acknowledge -- that loom over my riding experience and that I struggle to climb, usually in the lowest possible gear. In fact, I'm barely moving at all in that gear, working extra hard just to keep the bike from falling over.

As sweat oozes from my pores pedaling up my little hills, I am often conscious of activity over my
head. The vultures begin to circle above, just waiting for me to drop dead in the road so they can swoop in and extract my intestines and whatever else vultures find delicious.

Those vultures have been on my mind as I watch the circus at 725 Fifth Avenue. The parade of supplicants seeking jobs from the most incompetent president-elect in our history would be entertaining on an issue of the Apprentice, but is deadly serious when the world is at stake. For the most part, I see vultures circling our key institutions, just waiting for the chance to begin disemboweling them on January 21st.

Here's an update on the government infrastructure slaughter we're about to witness.

Betsy DeVos, Education Disemboweler: The billionaire who doesn't believe in public schools and presided over Michigan's dismantling of public schools and the transfer of public education funds to for-profit schools. Since then, Michigan's test scores have plummeted and children suffer.

We can picture her circling our public schools, waiting for the chance to swoop in and hand them (and our tax dollars) to education corporations as she did in Michigan. DeVos' family owns Amway -- the quintessential pyramid scheme -- and Blackwater -- the mercenary for-profit military enriched by our failed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.


Tom Price, Health Care Disemboweler: The Georgia Congressman who wants the Affordable Care Act repealed and opposes both Medicaid and Medicare. Price is a member of AAPS, a right-wing fringe medical organization that spreads fears about vaccines and urges physicians to refuse to see patients on Medicaid or Medicare. As Price swoops in on our healthcare system, expect a gutting of the programs that serve a majority of Americans.

Mike Flynn, Intelligence Agency Disemboweler: Everything we know about Mike Flynn suggests the man is unstable. He has released top secret information several times and is on record simply fabricating "Flynn Facts" from thin air. Just some of his recent tweets and public statements:

"Sharia law is spreading in the US" 
“Cnn implicated. ‘The USSR is to blame!’ … Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore."
“Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”

Sarah Chayes worked with Flynn for two years when he ran military intelligence in Afghanistan. "His thinking process is not sufficiently analytical to test some streams against others and make sense of it, or draw consistent conclusions. If you listen to him, in 10 minutes you’ll hear him contradict himself two or three times,” she said. Flynn has also been paid by Putin's media arm for appearances in Moscow.

Our intelligence agencies are charged not just with collecting information, but prudently interpreting and packaging it for the president. With Flynn as their spokesperson, facts and discretion go out the door and crazy conspiracy theories are what reaches the ear of the man who we already know is intellectually and behaviorally unfit for the responsibility entrusted to him.

Jeff Sessions, Equal Justice Disemboweler: The man Republicans found unsuitable for a federal judgeship because of his racism. The man who believes such gems as:
“I thought those guys [the Ku Klux Klan] were OK until I learned they smoked pot.”
Organizations like the NAACP “force civil rights down the throats of people.”
“You know the NAACP hates white people; they are out to get them. That is why they bring these lawsuits, and they are a commie group and a pinko organization as well.” 
Sessions seems particularly poised to dismantle "equal justice for all under the law", the pillar of our Constitutional system. Will he squelch investigations of Trump and white supremacists while conjuring crimes assignable to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and others fighting for equal justice?

Steven Mnuchin, Bank Regulation Disemboweler: The hedge fund, Goldman Sachs guy in the Treasury Department will decimate what few bank regulations we have in place to prevent another Wall Street-created planetary disaster like 2008. He is anti-regulation and, though the only one of the above who appears to have a brain and intact mental health, known for being self-serving and ambitious, not ideological.

Trump and Pence aren't finished with their choices. We know they've put generals in charge of Defense and Security and may also put one in charge of State, gutting our long-standing principle of civilian control. We know they're considering a man convicted of giving confidential military information to his girlfriend. The circus goes on.

So far, I've survived every hill to the disappointment of the local vultures. To do that, I make sure to eat a good breakfast and take my blood pressure medicine. But on really cold days, it's iffy. I'd like to think that our government will survive these vultures too, but I worry that it's been weakened by decades of Republican unraveling, whether from Congress or the White House. I do hope though that each of these departments has talented professionals with exemplary courage. That may help us crest this hill and catch our collective breath for the next one.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Crazy Idea

Here's a graphic that encapsulates everything wrong with our current system of representation:


If you live in a large state like California, your vote for president counts less than if you live in a small one. Similarly, your senator represents 20,000,000 of you versus 175,000 in tiny Wyoming. There are calls to amend the Constitution to remove the electoral college. This is not a new proposal -- it's been tried many times in our history. And given that it advantages the party whose votes would be needed to overturn it, I'm not holding my breath.

Here's a different idea.

What if our large states decided to split into multiple states, dividing as best as possible their population centers to increase representation? Just splitting northern California (including the San Francisco Bay Area) from southern California (including Los Angeles and suburbs) would double representation. Maybe there are other ways to increase it even more without just creating more tiny rural powerhouses (like the State of Jefferson proposal so familiar here in southern Oregon and northernmost California).

There's a limitation since cities like New York City won't want to be divided into multiple states, but I wonder what might be possible? In states with population centers in more than one city, it makes sense to me. Besides, who in LA or SF actually feels kinship with the other big Calfornia city?

Come on, legislators. Start playing with lines. It'll be good practice for redistricting after the 2020 census anyway.