More on welfare

Here it is, Friday, and I’m finishing up a job. At least, finishing it for the week. After a contentious lunch, wherein the conversation at the table included someone saying that he wasn’t watching football anymore over the National Anthem debate (I’m keeping my mouth shut). He’s giving up drinking Pepsi, because they haven’t pulled sponsorship of the NFL (I’m keeping my mouth shut).

Now it’s the end of the day, I’ve got a date I’m excited to get to later that night, and it’s all going well. Then he brings up welfare, and people not wanting to work taking tax payer money (dammit, I am keeping my mouth shut!).  And finally, immigration.

“Don’t you think that we should keep the immigrants out?”

Well, shit. I’ve tried keeping my mouth shut, but now you’re asking me a direct question.

“No, actually. My grandparents were first generation Americans, and I think the backbone of the American system is immigration.”

“My ancestors were immigrants, too,” he says. “But I’m not talking about those.”

“Oh, you mean the Mexicans and the Muslims.”

This conversation goes on for a little while, back and forth, about whether welfare recipients are deserving, about legal vs. illegal immigration.

There is a cultural bias in this country, and it’s fragmenting how we view what’s happening around us, and around the world. This conversation was merely another example.

 

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Divided Nations

Dear Abby:

I’m torn. I’ve been in an open relationship for quite a while now. We share partners between us. There’s a few. Occasionally one will quarrel with another, but on the whole it’s worked out really well. Until recently.

Within the past year one of the lovers has become increasingly erratic. He takes time to berate some of us, then tries to be nice. Though, we don’t actually believe he’s sorry for what he said. Actually, he doesn’t even apologize.

He lauds over us his superiority and says that his stuff is more important than ours. He has always given more to the communal property in the relationship, but now he’s saying that he’s been doing too much.

I just don’t know how long we can last with him. Some of our neighbors are actually threatening him. He just goads them, tells them to go ahead and try. I’m afraid any fight is something some or all of us will get dragged into.

We’re at our wits end! What should we do?

Sincerely,

-Formerly United Guys and Gals

Of course, this is a thinly veiled commentary on President Trump’s rhetoric regarding the United Nations.

The United Nations, or UN was founded by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and 50 other member states in 1945. Its function was mainly to provide defense and secure against another world war.

Intergovernmental associations of OC the utmost importance to national security and prosperity, and downplaying the cooperative nature of the United Nations is a danger to all.

Rebuilding

Following natural disasters, how does the government respond? Where does the money come from, and aren’t there ways that we can be better prepared?

Early estimates are that the total cost of Harvey and Irma are $150-$250B. In perspective, the cost of Katrina was $160B. How do we pay for that? What are other economic factors that need to be considered?

The United States annual budget is roughly $3.8 trillion. So, those two hurricanes comprise approximately 5% of the annual budget.

When I worked in municipal government, I dealt with the Office of Management and Budget from time to time. Check how much overall was left for the office until the end of the fiscal year. Request transfers from one category to another. Those kind of things.

I’m neither an expert on budgets nor on government expenditures.

That being said, it seems that the Nation has a problem. Debt is required to make up the deficit in the budget (already), and more debt will be needed to pay for the damage.

Following Hurricane Katrina, John W. Schoen had this to say when asked who’d foot the bill: “The simplest answer: our children and grandchildren will get stuck with the bill. They’re the ones who will ultimately have to pay off the debt Congress has authorized to keep spending on the war in Iraq and now the rebuilding of damage caused by back-to-back hurricanes. In the short-term, the cash is coming from the sale of Treasury bonds, which will have to be paid back decades from now.”

I’d say great, but I’ll probably be alive to see my taxes increase for that. Probably won’t have Social Security benefits either.

Regardless, the question of handling national disasters comes down to the matter of handling the National Budget. And given that the Country was created partially through the borrowing of money (to finance the Revolutionary War), we have always been a people of debt.

The American Dream was founded on debt.

Is it sustainable? Probably not. Are we going to suddenly have to become a Chinese State? Highly doubtful. Still, planning for the budget deficit in responsible ways has become even more important in recent years.

The Treasury Department was cerated to handle the Country’s finances (thank you Alexander Hamilton – I’m a theatre guy, please keep that in mind).

From a website showing US Government Spending, we get these charts:

usgs_chart4p01

“When charted in dollars the total accumulation of federal debt looks huge. Looking back over the last century, the debt back in 1900 doesn’t really register.”

usgs_chart4p02

“But by charting accumulated debt as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP), you get a look at government debt compared to the size of the economy at the time.” This looks like a more reasonable time comparison, though having debt at 100% of the GDP is certainly not a desirable method of running the Nation’s finances.

So where does that leave us? Raise taxes? Cut spending? That’s the crux of the Democrat-Republican debate!

But in the short term it unfortunately doesn’t matter which side is right, if either side can actually be right. The cost of repair when destruction hits needs to be paid.

 

Legislative Agenda

From my point of view, it seems that president Donald J. Trump came into office with one incredibly focused agenda – overturn as much Obama-era policy that he could.

Counterpoint. I’ll admit that Trump was elected president, and during the campaign he ran on the platform of draining the swamp, not being a political toadie, and appealing to a broad swath of the Republican base. Not all the GOP, very few democrats, and about half the independents. Much of his campaign was to be critical of the previous administration.

Counterpoint. I do not claim to have seen a copy of president Trump’s agenda at any point in the campaign, or since he was elected. This is merely speculative, though I feel the evidence does in part support that possibility. So, I pulled up some legislative accomplishments of the Obama Administration, and picked out a few that have been of interest to President Trump since inauguration.

Let’s start with Health Care. A major campaign promise of then candidate Donald Trump was the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. And boy, did he try. Every tactic he could think of, from coercion to Twitter rants. Even now Obamacare is a program with a tenuous hold.

More recently DACA, the Deferred Action to Childhood Arrivals. This policy, enacted during the Obama Administration, gives consideration to the 800,000 children brought here illegally, through no fault of their own, by immigrating parents. It gives them the opportunity to receive an education and legally apply for work permits in renewable windows. President Trump said the policy didn’t work, and it’s up to Congress to resolve what happens to those “Dreamers.”

Transgender in the military – According to CNN, “President Donald Trump on Friday directed the military not to move forward with an Obama-era plan that would have allowed transgender individuals to be recruited into the armed forces, following through on his intentions announced a month earlier to ban transgender people from serving.”

Dodd-Frank was another policy Trump took aim at, and there have been steps moving towards its repeal from the Administration and the GOP controlled Congress.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed to be coming to a close during the Obama Administration. Now, it seems that troop increases and prolonged occupation will be our nation’s future. Also, here.

These are just a few, with many more not listed, as well as new proposals coming on what seem a weekly basis. When the current Administration runs out of Obama-era policies to try and overturn or reverse, I suppose we’ll see which direction President Trump wants to take. 

Fighting for something

“On this Sabbath… in our homes in the midst of our American families, let us calmly consider what we have done and what we must do.”

– President Franklin D. Roosevelt

This introduction to a 1940 fireside chat was the result of troubling times in Europe, and the realization that Roosevelt had come to – that the United States would not be able to avoid that conflict. The fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, and Japan (the Axis powers) were fast becoming a threat to a Country trying to turn a blind-eye to the plight of non-Americans. The isolationists were content in believing that something in Europe was okay as long as it wasn’t happening to them.

Beyond the expansion, genocide and looming threat of the Axis were the fascists. “Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and control of industry and commerce, that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe”.

Wilhelm Reich argued that fascism “does not spring exclusively either from the economic factors, or from the activities of political leaders. Much rather, it is the collective expression of average human beings, whose primary biological needs have been ruthlessly crushed by an authoritarian and sexually inhibited society. Any form of organized mysticism, such as the authoritarian family or church, feeds on the longings of the masses, and we must be forced to realize its potential destructiveness.”

Collective expression of average human beings. I think that we sometimes forget that all great things, all terrible things, anything of note that has occurred in recorded history, started with people – average human beings. Tragedy occurs, and its typically the loss of human life. Dictators rise, but before that, they were merely a cog in the system. Mussolini was a rifleman; Hitler was an Austrian draft dodger.

The anti-fascist movement, ANTIFA, has been receiving a great deal of attention. Fears over the Trump Administration, concerns of racism and, yes, fascism, have prompted the growth of these loosely organized groups. No leadership, no core mission, no real understanding of purpose that’s consistent throughout. It’s a response to what is felt to be wrong. A feeling that we’re all just average human beings, and how some of us are being treated is intolerable.

Nazism. White supremacy. Fascism.

So what to do? Is taking to the street, wearing all black and balaclava masks, carrying signs and weapons the answer? When the frustration boils over, violence is always possible. And the events in Charlottesville, VA, Berkeley, CA, and others show that clashes between ANTIFA groups and Alt-Right or white nationalist demonstrators are inevitable, and likely to be dangerous, perhaps even deadly.

Now I support freedom of expression, and I oppose white supremacy and white nationalist movements. To be frank, the climate in the US right now seems frighteningly like what I imagined the periods of the Civil Rights movement and the era prior to World War II to look like – nationalist sentiments, ethnic slurs, and turmoil.

Is there another way? During the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. trumpeted nonviolent resistance. “While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly impossible goals.”

I would advocate nonviolence as well. To refrain from resorting to “any means necessary,” it is important to remember that it is not antagonism that solves disputes, but in the opposition of error. Dr. King took many of his ideas from Mahatma Gandhi, who had led the Indian independence movement against British rule. It was accomplished through nonviolent resistance, which Gandhi felt was “infinitely superior to violence.” (47)

Gandhi wrote, “On the political field, the struggle on behalf of the people mostly consists in  opposing error in the shape of unjust laws. When you have failed to bring the error home to the law-giver by way of petitions and the like, the only remedy open to you, if you do not wish to submit to error, is to compel him by physical force to yield to you or by suffering in your own person by inviting the penalty for the breach of the law. Hence satyagraha largely appears to the public as Civil Disobedience or Civil Resistance. It is civil in the sense that it is not criminal.”

Ultimately, tolerance is needed for this Country to survive. Tolerance of immigrants, and ethnicities, and even political parties. Otherwise it’s just a disparate powder keg waiting to explode.

Hate groups, by their very definition, embody a lack of tolerance, and should be responded to accordingly. Nazis, and Neo-Nazis, are pretty clearly a hate group.

I would rather a group like ANTIFA to not be assailable in their actions – to not have members that may be classified as domestic terrorists. I want an organization, or a group of organizations, that promotes tolerance, that finds creative ways of fighting against inequality.

The violence is a symptom, revealing underlying fears and angers. I get it. I’m just as frustrated. And we can’t look to our politicians, because right now it seems that too few of them are there to help. But aren’t there some other ways of promoting tolerance? It feels as if the heart of the Country is broken, and that there are too few stepping up to help it heal.

Alas, Poor Yorick

It’s an interesting cross roads, along one path – civilization; and the other – barbaric punishment.

I’d mentioned in the earlier post, “It’s the W-Word!!!“, a statement made by Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

There are similar quotes, by similarly great men and women, on similar topics. Another that stokes the flames is from Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civil action in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

I’ve seen the criminal justice system. I believe the criminal justice system in the United States does not work. There are statistics. There are first-hand accounts. There are horror stories.

Privatization, capitalism, dehumanization drive a criminal justice system that is unsustainable. The criminal justice bubble, if you will. A bubble that is sure a break.

And I’ve mentioned the issues I’ve had with the criminal justice system before in passing. But right now I’m thinking about the death penalty. This was prompted by the scheduled Tuesday execution of Missouri inmate Marcellus Williams. Newly discovered DNA evidence prompted the Governor to stay the execution. (As I’m working on the finishing touches of this piece, I just got a notice for an execution in my home state of Florida.)

It’s an aspect of our belief that the threat of death will keep citizens in line. That punishment for crimes is the most obvious deterrent. If you can create a punishment harsh enough, eventually it will inevitably prevent all crime. Yet that doesn’t seem logical.

Anyway you slice it, here the numbers are skewed.

A recent study by Professor Michael Radelet and Tracy Lacock of the University of Colorado found that 88% of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime.”

Personally, I am an ardent detractor of the death penalty. From a moral standpoint, the taking of someone’s life is something that I will not support. (In a kind of extremist view, I admit I did go vegetarian last year.)

Coming at this from a religious standpoint, I think of the various conservative Christians who will decry abortion, yet at the same time demand retributive justice. This post from Christian Today, 2002, gives you a glimpse:

“Many evangelical christians believe that when it comes to wrongdoers (or criminals), the state’s first task is to make them suffer for the wrong they have done. Whether the lash, or exile from one’s homeland, or a stretch on the rack, or exposure to public shame (The Scarlet Letter), or confinement in jail—or even the noose—punishment is expected.

Is there a Christian principle from which retributive justice is derived? Retributive justice did not arise from any Christian principle; almost every pre-Christian society dealt with wrongdoers by causing them pain. Even so, retributive justice is supported by biblical example.”

A commonly cited verse for retributive punishment is Exodus 21:23:

“But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

And yet, I’ve heard it taught that even this was to encourage leniency in punishment. Prior to the Torah, death would be a common punishment for many crimes. Then Jesus came along, and theoretically upended the whole system. “Love thy enemy”, “turn the other cheek”, et al.

It’s believed now that most religious systems argue for grace and mercy when meting out punishments. Yet, Christians in America have been at the forefront of hateful behaviors. Radical Islamists vie for power and incite fear through terrorist acts. And some Hasidic Jews are still accused of misogynistic treatment of their wives, moving into the realm of domestic abuse.

We don’t seem to have it down yet.

Currently thirty-two states have the death penalty. There are right now over thirteen-hundred people on death row in the US. And from this fact sheet, it seems that roughly 61% of the polled Americans would be favorable to alternatives to the penalty. It’s my hope that eventually we’ll move from this form of retributive justice, in favor of more humane treatment of our citizenry.

America the hateful?

What a terrible week for the Country. External threats, such as North Korea and Iran loom large in the political arena, but it’s the domestic disturbances that are invading the national consciousness.

  • On Tuesday, President Trump retweeted a cartoon of a train bearing the Trump logo killing a CNN reporter, just days after a protester at a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was fatally run down by a driver who participated in that rally. The cartoon reads “Fake news can’t stop the Trump train.” Thirty minutes later it was deleted from Trump’s Twitter feed.
  • Texas A&M University has called off a white-supremacist rally that was scheduled on campus next month. The rally organizer said he was inspired by the Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville for his White Lives Matter event planned for Sept. 11. Known white supremacist Richard Spencer was invited to speak at the event.
  • Charlottesville riots left one dead and nineteen injured, following a car slamming into a crowd of people. The gathering of alt-right protestors coming to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee collided with leftist counter-protestors, and a large-scale riot erupted, with white supremacist driver plowing into a crowd of people.
  • Protesters in Durham, North Carolina, brought down a Confederate monument Monday night. The monument, which is engraved with “The Confederate States of America,” is of a Confederate soldier. Activists had previously campaigned for its removal. Protesters tied a rope around the statue and pulled until it fell over, doing extensive damage to the piece.
  • Boston Police arrested one person suspected of shattering part of the city’s New England Holocaust Memorial. The person is suspected of throwing a rock at one of the memorial’s six glass towers at around 6:40 p.m. Monday. The memorial was also vandalized in June. A 21-year-old man was arrested for the first incident.
  • The Lincoln Memorial was vandalized with red spray paint, stating what appears to be: “Fuck (law, or perhaps Islam)”.
  • A Google software engineer wrote a contentious memo that has “enraged advocates of greater diversity in the technology industry. The memo has also served as a rallying cry for conservatives and the alt-right who view Google — and Silicon Valley — as a bastion of groupthink where people with different opinions are shamed into silence.” The memo proposed that differences between men and women — like a woman having a lower tolerance for stress — help explain why there were fewer women in engineering and leadership roles at the company. He said efforts by the company to reach equal representation of women in technology and leadership were “unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”

-Stories as reported in New York Times, Daily Beast,
CNN, Fox News, and Washington Post

I get through all of these, and there are more that I could list, but I feel sick. This is what we’re dealing with right now.

But, I continue on, finding that the father of the poor young woman who was murdered at the Charlottesville rally forgives the man who had driven the car. His compassion, even in the face of unimaginable grief, is something that I think many of us would have a hard time practicing.

Yes, the world is terrifying. Or it can be. And it’s contentious being an American. But we can do better. We can be better.

America is beautiful because of its diversity, and its tenacity.