Thursday, May 26, 2016

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I’m a creature of habit. I follow a consistent day to day routine from when and where I walk the dogs to having a “regular” order at the local cafĂ© for both lunch and dinner. I even run into the same people at the same time on elevators! There’s something reassuring about having consistency and following the same patterns. Sometime doing things over and over doesn’t necessarily make them the right thing to do. A doctor told me recently that the way I compensated for an injury by repeatedly walking in a different way had caused a range of other issues. When it comes to more cerebral things I try hard not to share, retweet or pass along information that may not be accurate. There’s a tendency in today’s social media timed world to share first and think later. In politics the more you say something the more people believe it.

Donald J. Trump’s biggest political claim is that for years he repeatedly said that he didn’t think that Barack Obama was born in the U.S. There was no evidence to support it and even after the original birth certificate was publicly shown he shrugged his shoulders and said he still wasn’t sure.

Obama himself uses the mantra method to make his points. Some call it being on message. How many times did the President promise that “if you like your doctor you can keep him” when describing his Healthcare plan?

There is a difference between repeating information that’s untrue and repeating an expectation about policy. It still doesn’t mean that what the President says is always true. In matters of life and death, President Obama stands alone in his repeated actions and statements on where his authority lies.

President Obama has a kill list. Well, he did. It’s been neatly renamed the Disposition Matrix. It’s now no longer a list of 10 names on a piece of paper. It’s now a database that is maintained. What hasn’t changed is that the President alone determines who lives and who dies without any proof or any publicly known criteria guiding the decision and certainly no oversight.

May 1, 2011 President Obama touted the killing of Osama bin Laden. Just over five years has passed and the NBC News asked What’s Changed?  If you don’t follow the link and read the full story – here’s the answer: not much. Terrorists have been freshly branded under ISL or ISIS. Wars continue with U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting.

Just last week (5/23/16) President Obama confirmed the death (killing) of another Taliban leader. Clearly the impact of the death of bin Laden has had no impact or effect give years later. Leaders will be replaced.

There is no oversight of this list – judicial or congressional. CIA director John O. Brennan generally makes the recommendations of who gets to die. He said: “I tend to do what I think is right. But I find much more comfort, I guess, in the views and values of this president.” Values and opinions are determining life and death.

The United States of America is supposed to stand for the Rule of Law. Even the guilty are presumed innocent until there is a trial. The country is not at war – Congress hasn’t authorized one in nearly a century. Even if the ‘authorizations to use force’ counted as a back-door – it doesn’t justify random killing. Military courts go through the pretext of determining guilt and innocence before punishment is meted out…especially the death penalty (killing somebody). It’s what the country’s supposed to stand for.

The U.S. is about to mark Memorial Day – a time to appreciate and celebrate those who lost their lives in battle to preserve the principals of American Democracy. No matter how many times President Obama or others repeat it – there is no justice, no rightness and no honor in having a secret list of people who get killed without a public trial. To those who disagree or think this is partisan: what do you think of a President Trump deciding who lives and who dies without any oversight or reporting whatsoever?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Flipping Season

Here in New England the sun has reappeared and buds are bringing life to grounds. As I walk around my neighborhood I smell bar-b-que’s firing up for the season. Slippers around the house have been replaced with flip-flops for the season. Summer’s coming! It’s also the season of flip flopping in politics. This year’s contest has the biggest whopper I’ve ever seen.

The ordinary definition is when a candidate changes position --- and while that’s always an amusing thing to look at, I have a pretty high tolerance for people who change their mind. To me it can show signs of an inquisitive nature, an ability to adapt and an openness to compromise. Yet there are limits. On matters of core principals, I think it’s hard to move from one stance to another without a powerful narrative.

Mitt Romney is one of the biggest flip floppers and there’s an entire site devoted to it (with references). See when Mitt was pro-choice and then became pro-life. On nearly every issue he pivoted. Many are nuanced, but some are significant.

It’s not party specific. Wikipedia reports about then Presidential Candidate John Kerry “Famously, on March 16, 2004, during an appearance at Marshall University Kerry tried to explain his vote for an $87 billion supplemental appropriation for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by telling the crowd, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it." ”

Name a candidate from any party and there’s a list of inconsistencies. It’s not unique to one or the other.

Donald J. Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Grand Old Party. This is a party that in my lifetime has carved out its role in society: conservative socially, lower taxes, less regulation, etc. They outline their beliefs: “Solutions to help create jobs, build a healthy economy, and lead to greater freedom and opportunity. Solutions that help everyone get ahead and achieve a better life. Solutions that empower all Americans – no matter who you are or where you come from – because government should not limit where you finish because of where you started. That’s what House Republicans advance every single day.”

The GOP mantra has manifested itself over the past eight years especially as much Anti-Obama as pro-GOP. Their standard bearer, Trump, however doesn’t align with many of the policies that the party stands for. The Washington Post reported extensively on his fluid stances on issues.

When Mr. Trump went to Washington May 12 and the Republicans went wild for him. Even John McCain has said they're going to support him (though Trump said McCain wasn’t a hero because he was caught and held as a prisoner.) House Speaker Paul Ryan (VP Candidate to Romney in 2012) tried to cool the enthusiasm, by saying he needed to see where the standard bearer lined up on key conservative issues. That’s smart but he is in the minority.

Everybody else flipped. They have endorsed this candidate who doesn’t align with their stated beliefs. Hilary Clinton lines up on foreign policy more closely to most Republicans than she does to progressive Democrats. They have put party over principal. And that’s the biggest flip of all this election season.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Adding it up

I can do basic math, especially with the help of a calculator. It wasn’t always the case. I almost didn’t make it out of my Junior year in High School because of Geometry – something I still am not sure had any value all these years later and something I’m not sure really relates to math! Joking aside, my point is that I know that the math favors Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 Democratic nomination race. And I see where Senator Sanders supporters are frustrated. This is not a “Feel the Bern” blog – but there is something about the math in these primaries that deserves looking into – for both parties.

If you listen or follow the ‘mainstream’ media (or ‘lame stream’ if you’re a Sarah Palin supporter) – the Democratic nomination for President is all sewn up. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has no way of meeting the number of delegates needed. (The candidates are a few hundred delegates apart from the results from the various state elections but Mrs. Clinton has hundreds more of ‘super delegates’ who are pledged to her.) Sanders supporters point to how many states he has won and note that the pledge of a ‘super delegate’ is just that – a pledge, not a vote. Neither side will convince the other until the convention happens in Philadelphia in July 2016.

Eight years ago Mrs. Clinton did the math herself and reluctantly waved the white flag and folded up her campaign and supported then Senator President Obama. That happened when a significant portion of the ‘super delegates’ at that time told her that they were switching camps. That’s not happening this time, people aren’t switching away from her so why won’t Bernie do the same thing?

Rallies for Senator Sanders are bursting at the seams. In Sacramento this week (5/10/16) “somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people were estimated to have been packed inside the stadium, with more than 10,000 more continuing to wait outside.” Some reports claim these people aren’t voters so it doesn’t matter – but there is something impressive about a candidate who can’t win the nomination drawing over capacity crowds in city after city, state after state.

What’s going on? Has everybody failed math? No. It’s about more than winning the nomination though that is the framework that Senator Sanders is able to deliver his message in.

Sanders passionately speaks about the issues that he cares about – while Clinton, known to the electorate for more than two decades is more circumspect in her presentation of the issues. It’s true that the differences on the Democratic side as it relates to policy are incremental and the Senator and the Secretary have more in common than they do with the GOP candidate.

There’s been much kerfuffle and speculation that Bernie supporters won’t transfer their support automatically over to Hilary when she gets the nomination. Likewise there have been Clinton supporters who have said the same if Sanders somehow gets the nod. A good amount of that communication is posturing and emotional reactions in the heat of a political battle. It’s more than that, though.

It really is about how each candidate is perceived. Bernie has crafted a style of being thought of as your hip grandfather – hair askew, speaking from the hip, telling it like it is and pouring everything of himself into the campaign. Contrast that with Hilary who is part of a huge political machine where every moment is planned, strategically designed and carefully calibrated. The result is that she has an aura of being disingenuous – whether it’s based in truth or is just the culmination of 20+ years of attacks it has stuck. A Washington-Post poll in March 2016 showed only 37% of the public found her to be ‘trustworthy.’ And while there have been independent reports that show she’s honest, what has stuck with the public is that she’s not.

There’s been a number of comparisons of Sanders to Donald J. Trump. Crowds, being ‘anti-establishment’ and speaking directly are the top-line similarities. The two couldn’t be more different because the fundamental policies and issues that they advocate are nearly polar opposite. They do, however, have a commonality –the American populace believe them when they talk, even if what they say is unpleasant, unconventional or even downright wrong. And even when they contradict themselves moments after saying one thing or another.

Hilary Clinton released a “brutal” Anti-Trump ad in early May 2016. It’s a long series of quotes from GOP establishment figures on how dangerous, out of touch, etc. Donald Trump is.

If this is her strategy, then Trump’s naming Chris Christie as the head of his transition team to get into the Oval Office wasn’t actually premature or presumptuous as I originally thought.

16 GOP candidates tried and failed to topple Donald J. Trump. The Bush dynasty – from Presidents #41 and #43 to former Florida Governor Jeb with more than $100 million in super PAC money couldn’t make a dent when Trump accurately assailed Jeb for having “no energy.” If anything they fueled his rise.

The idea that those traditional attacks on Trump and the pleas for Sanders to get out of the race are based on old modes of thinking – old math if you will. The voters (for good or bad) want somebody they believe – even if that person is full of contradictions and may not have the remotest credentials to do the job. Come November 8, 2016 it may add up to President Trump unless Mrs. Clinton starts using some new fangled equations.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

De Plane ... De Plane

I’ve been doing a fair amount of travel in the last year or so with lots more to come in the next six months. On my most recent trip as I bemoaned the state of getting from point a to point b – I decided to do a quick calculation in my head about how much of my life I’ve spent in a metal tube going from place to place. By my conservative estimate it’s about 2 full months of my life. It’s a huge amount of time on the one hand – but on the other where I have friends who fly much more than I – I imagine they’ve spent years on planes. Traveling is not fun, pleasant or nice anymore. And while there’s lots of reasons for that, the TSA continues to show a level of incompetence that is baffling and Congress keeps rewarding them.

Here’s some quotes from TSA staffers at the recent (4/2016) hearings in Congress:

“…bosses at the TSA are the biggest bullies in government."

“Assistant federal security director Andrew Rhoades agreed that the TSA suffers from ‘gross mismanagement’ along with operational and monetary waste.”

“The TSA is getting worse, not better.”

The agency was formed in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and became part of Homeland Security on March 9, 2003. They have a $7.6 billion budget funded largely from the $2.50 per passenger tax that is paid by the traveling public on each ticket. Those who pass through the various “security” lines left behind $765K in coins last year which add to their funding.

People just want to get away from the TSA agents so much so they leave lots behind. The TSA are fully of bullies, rude staff who are fundamentally incapable of doing the job they were hired to do. That’s not me being pissy or mean – that’s based on their own statistics. The TSA’s own testing protocols show a 95% failure rate. A TSA employee told the LA Times: “This is all a joke. I can think of a hundred ways to sneak a weapon through all of this." And if you’re a conspiracy theorist – this is what the TSA is self-reporting, perhaps the real number is even higher.

“All those expensive body and baggage scanning machines, all that intrusive rummaging through luggage, all those intimate pat-downs of little kids and grannies, all those nail clippers confiscated, all those bottles of liquids seized, all those shoes and belts taken off, all those laptops pulled out and all those thousands of frustrating hours wasted in line have been mostly for show.”

Each year the FAA is reauthorized by Congress. It’s the opportunity for the legislative branches to make sure that the agency that oversees the airlines keeps the focus on the public good rather than the private profit. Despite its own evidence to the contrary, Congress increased funding for safety and security “in light of the Brussels” attacks.

The Senate also opted against requiring airlines to keep the seats at a particular size – or even to disclose how big their seats are. “Economy-class airline seats have shrunk in recent years on average from a width of 18 inches to 16.5 inches. The average pitch — the space between a point on one seat and the same on the seat in front of it — has gone from 35 inches to about 31 inches. Many airlines are charging passengers for extra legroom in amounts that used to be standard.”

Point of reference: AMC Theatres has moved in the other direction – changing their seats from 44 inches to 60 inches. 

The article continued: “No senators spoke against the proposal, but airlines opposed to the measure have accused lawmakers of trying to "re-regulate" an industry that has been deregulated since 1978.”

The airlines, however lobby Congress extensively to regulate the size of carry-on baggage.  Included in the approved legislation (that is en route to the House for approval) is the requirement that if your checked bags are delayed or lost the airlines must refund the fee they charged. Airlines said “the legislation will make it more expensive for travelers to fly.”

The government is very much in the business of flying. At the airlines behest they have set the size of carry-on bag (which changes every few years to keep the manufacturers of luggage in good business). Disobeying anything anybody who works for the airline asks a passenger to do is literally a federal crime. How you can wait in line to use the rest room on the plane is mandated by Congress. So why not throw away all pretense and do something that the public would benefit from – like the width of the seat or the pitch between seats? Or having the security lines actually be about security? Now there’s some wishful thinking!