Monthly Archives: April 2015

Not Just About Freddie Gray

All the white indignation in the world will not solve any of the systemic problems of our minority neighborhoods. We have known that there have been people, our neighbors, who, for whatever reasons, have opted out or have been left out of America’s economic prosperity and who have been left isolated on cultural-economic islands that we became frightened to build bridges to or visit. I don’t care who is at fault. There is plenty of fault to go around.

Americans of African Descent have been shunned and the more they were shunned the more cut off they became from the culture as a whole. Their own pride and the defenses they erected to show that they did not care and that perhaps they did not want anything to do with white people either seemed to effectively burn any bridges or stop people from building bridges altogether.

There have been programs to lift people in pockets of stubborn poverty up and out. Someone always puts shame into these programs, accuses poor folk of taking something for nothing (when it seems as if that must have been the whole idea) before the programs can do their work and then either abandons the programs or turns them into just another burden.

I was around for the last bout of “riots” in the sixties which were mostly concerned with securing basic civil rights. Our government did throw some money at these problems at that time. I worked for a program that helped people who left school, or graduated but still lacked the basic skills they needed to get along in areas like reading, writing and math. A bit of money was wasted before these programs got up to speed, got rid of the greedy few trying to rip off the government, and started making true inroads into preparing adults for college. Students in these programs were saddled with big loans in the early years because they would be given school loans and they would fail their courses and drop out again, being still improperly prepared for higher education but now, also, in debt. Eventually the programs improved and were able to help almost every student earn a college degree.

There were still factory jobs in those days and Americans of African Descent had a tough time getting hired at factories (men more than women) because employees worried about their work ethic, sometimes with justification, sometimes not. No sooner did people from poor neighborhoods begin to get jobs in factories than all of the factories left America. At the same time Washington decided to link welfare to work (sometimes educational or training programs were also acceptable). With good paying jobs disappearing poor people were once more put between that proverbial rock and a hard place.

Everyone in America wants success – everyone wants to get rich. Our changing economy and attitudes towards the poor left Americans of African Descent with few choices – music (entertainment), sports, or drugs. I taught young people who would refuse to read at all unless the material was about rap or basketball. I was not so married to western culture and tradition that I refused to pick up some magazines at the bookstore which centered around rap and basketball. Such materials still functioned to raise reading levels, which was my main goal. Then we could read some Shakespeare.

But, of course, selling drugs is a criminal act. Flashing around town with a big car and diamonds in your teeth did not sit well with the establishment. They declared a “War on Drugs” and so we began the years of locking up black men and women, breaking up families (isn’t this the same thing that happened to black families in slavery and yet we wonder why intact black families are sometimes rare) pitting cops (policemen) against segregated neighborhoods, creating an impetus for the formation of gangs to fight the law and to protect the turf. Call something a war and it becomes a war. Language matters.

That puts us right where we are today in almost any American city with a community at war with law enforcement to defend the criminal activities some of the poor see as the only “opportunity” they are left with to achieve the American Dream. The police form that blue wall to protect themselves, but that same blue wall is now a wall bad policemen can hide behind.

And so we ask how does a black teen get killed making a convenient store run for Skittles and iced tea? How does a black man, admittedly a large black man, end up dead for selling a few “loosies”? Why is running away from policemen when they have never been your friends something that leads to your being shot in the back? How does a healthy young man get taken into police custody for no discernible reason and end up dead with a broken spine?

And why won’t the police every say they are sorry, admit they were wrong, make amends, at least explain what they are afraid of that is making them gun down innocents like a 12-year-old with an air rifle? Why does everyone act so surprised when people get upset because they are never given an honest answer? Our police forces have to deal with this. It almost seems as if they have been told to shoot first and ask questions later. There must be some transparency in these matters. We all want answers. People were told they would get answer about Freddie Gray this Friday, May 1st. Now we are told that will not happen. And yet people are expected to stay calm, to not get angry.

The War on Drugs is supposedly over, but it isn’t. The War on Poverty ended too soon and did too little to be effective. We should be putting money into schools in poor neighborhoods. Higher education and/or training should be free, on us, paid for, with no loans as part of the package. We need to declare peace and a cease fire and mean it. We need to empty jails of low level offenders. We need to go back to community policing and mentoring. We need a few more moms like the Baltimore mom who show their children that they really mean it when they say they want them to have good lives.

I have heard some great ideas being kicked around. Now we need to collect them, plan how to implement them, and get on with it. Perhaps we’ll fail again, but we have to at least try. Let’s ignore the cries to do less, and do more! We have a long, long list of issues we need to deal with. Income inequality is supposed to be at the top of this list. Well here it is, in Baltimore and cities all across America. Americans need to know that it is still possible to find opportunities to succeed and be prosperous in America.

By Nancy Brisson

TPP – Yesterday, the Negatives – Today, the Positives

Trade agreements, and in particular the TPP have not been topics that I have researched in any great detail. But I am an American citizen and I feel that I really should investigate the topic before deciding whether to favor the TPP or not. So I will take you along with me into the surprisingly unanswerable question of whether globalization or trade agreements or both caused the flight of our factories and the loss of valuable American jobs.

It seems as difficult to tell if globalization or trade agreements or both caused manufacturers to leave us in the 80’s and the 90’s as it is to answer that old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. The two things were kind of concurrent events which makes it hard to separate and assign causality. The flight of our factories to nations with large supplies of workers who were happy to work for very low wages may have started with just a few companies, experts say, and then snowballed as companies learned they could not stay in America and compete with low cost production values and cheap imports. Most sources I looked at agreed that trade agreements played a role in factory flight, but were not necessarily advantageous to the nations on the other side of the agreements either. CAFTA and NAFTA definitely did not prove efficacious for American and our trade imbalances increased.

Sources make the point, however, that factory flight has already happened and that most of those manufacturers will not be returning to the US. Even though there has been some movement in certain sectors (like textiles) to return to America, machines do most of the work on the factory floor and factories will probably never again employ Americans in the numbers they once did. So the TPP is not likely to hurt our manufacturing employment numbers in the 21st century the way trade agreements added to our woes in the 20th century.

Some of the most recent articles mention several positive reasons to make this trade agreement with the Pacific Rim nations (so far, excluding China). One reason they mention is that we already have very low tariffs for some of these nations and no tariffs for about half of the nine nations.

When our factories left our intellectual properties went with them. Nations sometimes have legal access to technical specifications and sometimes they steal or hack them. We have not developed an effective strategy for either keeping our patented information secret, for charging fees to those who use our patented information, or for prosecuting those who break our patents. TPP is supposed to address this intellectual sinkhole and allow us to retain the profits that should accrue to us from our innovations. There was one article that I found especially cogent. Here are the authors of this very informative article speaking for themselves:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/03/12/why-obamas-key-trade-deal-with-asia-would-actually-be-good-for-american-workers/

Opponents of giving President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — the pending trade pact between the United States and 11 countries in Asia and the Americas — cite the job-killing impacts of globalization as a prime reason for their objection. The free-trade agreement would lower tariffs and remove other barriers to imports from member countries, which opponents fear would create steep competition for U.S. industries domestically.

Still, we believe blocking the TPP on fears of globalization would be a mistake.

There are several reasons to support the TPP despite globalization concerns. First, the TPP — which seeks to govern exchange of not only traditional goods and services, but also intellectual property and foreign investment — would promote trade in knowledge-intensive services in which U.S. companies exert a strong comparative advantage. Second, killing the TPP would do little to bring factory work back to America. Third, and perhaps most important, although China is not part of the TPP, enacting the agreement would raise regulatory rules and standards for several of China’s key trading partners. That would pressure China to meet some of those standards and cease its attempts to game global trade to impede foreign multinational companies.

Our research indicates that rising import competition from China accounted for 21 percent of the overall decline in U.S. employment in manufacturing industries during the 1990s and 2000s. The wave of automation that replaced middle-class jobs available to workers without a college education added to those losses. We sympathize with the regions and families that suffered, but halting TPP would not assist U.S. manufacturing or benefit U.S. workers. The reality is that the globalization of manufacturing is a fait accompli. Those manufacturing jobs are not coming back.

But if the TPP has little downside for the U.S., what’s the upside? Why bother with the deal at all? The reason is that the TPP is about much more than manufacturing. Most notably, it promises to liberalize trade in services and in agriculture, sectors in which the United States runs large trade surpluses, but which the World Trade Organization, despite 20 years of trying, has failed to pry open internationally.

It also requires protecting patents against infringement and safeguarding business assets and revenues against expropriation by foreign governments. To the extent that Obama succeeds in enshrining these guarantees in the TPP, the agreement would give a substantial boost to U.S. trade.

Expanding global trade has remade manufacturing, forcing workers, businesses, and entire regions to endure often painful adjustments. However, much as we might like to return to 1970 when manufacturing comprised a quarter of U.S. nonfarm employment, that’s impossible without massive protectionist barriers that would isolate the U.S. economy and lower U.S. living standards. Blocking the TPP because of justified unhappiness over manufacturing’s lost glory would amount to refighting the last trade war — beggaring the future as retribution for the past. A responsible trade agenda should instead seek to provide the supporting policy structure – protections for intellectual property and freedom from confiscatory regulations – that allows U.S. companies to excel in the sectors where they are strong.

This article had the clearest and most complete analysis, but the author is obviously for the TPP. I did not find many articles that are against it given our current economic climate. Here is a list of other sources I looked at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/making-it-in-america/308844/

http://www.manzellareport.com/index.php/u-s/469-the-impact-of-globalization-trade-agreements-and-emerging-trade-blocs-on-us-industry

http://www.epi.org/research/trade-and-globalization/

https://www.globalpolicy.org/economic-expansion/international-trade-agreements-8-22.html

http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/10/11/globalization-and-nafta-caused-migration-from-mexico/#

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-free-trade-and-the-loss-of-us-jobs/2014/01/14/894f5750-7d59-11e3-93c1-0e888170b723_story.html

If you really want to form your own opinion do some reading. The truth is that there are times when it is difficult to foresee all the future effects of current decisions. The big problem that I was left with after reading these articles is that almost no matter what America did our trade deficits increased. Perhaps right now it is impossible to reverse our trade losses and only by helping trade equalize worldwide will we eventually see the situation improve. I might be starting to favor the TPP, just because it is a small agreement and most of the damage has already been done, and the possibility of protecting our intellectual properties is appealing. Elizabeth Warren has found a rather glaring omission from the agreement which has to do with protections from the courts which needs to be taken into account, but perhaps that can be dealt with by an addition to the agreement. People mention that it will raise the cost of our medications, will affect the internet badly, and will cause massive genetic modification of food making our food supplies insecure. These problems also need to be addressed. I have not made my final decision on this issue and what I think about it has no real import in the grand scheme of things, but knowing something feels far better than knowing nothing.

By Nancy Brisson

TPP – Today, the Negatives – Tomorrow, the Positives

Many of the people who wanted to make a negative point about the TransPacific Partnership, the newest trade agreement that is being negotiated among twelve Pacific rim nations use that favorite instrument of commentary, the political cartoon. Sarcasm seasoned with a touch of humor is like that sugar that makes the bitter medicine go down I guess. Sometimes it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, but not if you want an in depth look at an issue. This post will go over some of the negative graphics that are out there in the universe of the internet. My next post will go over some of the articles written by people who favor words and will take on the positives of this trade agreement.

People are very upset about the seeming lack of transparency given the secrecy of this agreement and they are concerned about the fast track feature in Congress that tries to work around amendments and rewrites which would/could drastically slow down any approval and send the twelve nations back to the drawing board or perhaps lead them to vacate the agreement.

1. From hoosieragtoday.com  2. From campaigns.350.org   3. From foe.org  4. From secure3.From convio.net  5. From flushthetpp.org  6. From occupy.com  7. From doctors without borders

Compiled by with introduction by Nancy Brisson

We Need a Refugee Plan

Scanned from The Post Standard

Innocent people, families, women and children, even men and boys are risking their lives to escape the chaos in the Middle East. Some refugees are unable to leave and they have to live in makeshift housing and be a burden on the nations who host them. This would describe the plight of many of the Syrian refugees. People who find themselves up against ISIS sometimes find themselves with nowhere to run, which in this case can be deadly.

Since ISIS has started to be active in Libya people are trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in boats to get to a small island near Italy. Unscrupulous people with access to boats overload those boats for profit, but often with tragic results. We saw one capsize very recently and many people trying to escape death by terrorists found it anyway through greed.

Before the refugees from the Middle East there were refugees from “thug” activities in Africa and refugees from Nepal and Bhutan and even refugees uprooted by natural disasters. The world has been a place of upheaval forever, although these days world chaos seems greater than ever and the number of refugees keeps escalating.

I don’t understand why, when we know that there will almost always be refugees, we don’t have a refugee center for all the world’s refugees, or even several refugee centers. We could administer it/them through the United Nations or any of the aid groups that already help people uprooted from their lives. If we had such a center or centers we could offer housing more comfortable than a tent. We could offer food, clothing, schooling, and language lessons. Perhaps refugees could even get job training by holding jobs at the center/s.

These centers would offer permanent housing and services but any particular group of refugees would not stay there forever. They would be assigned, as nearly as possible, to the country of their choice or moved into various nations so that no nation would be overburdened. People who wished to assimilate into another nation might be sent from the center; those who wanted to go back to their homes at the end of crisis could be trained to man the centers. I’m sure people who have expertise in this area would know how to set this up better than I would.

I am also sure that this plan is naïve in too many ways to count. Humans are problem solvers. When we encounter a bad situation that occurs over and over again we think that we should come up with a plan. The more the problem upsets us emotionally the more certain it becomes that we will want to find a good or a better resolution. I cannot think of too many circumstances more traumatic than having to leave your home with next to nothing in your possession, to be forced to depend on the kindness of strangers (or fend for yourself) and to have no clue if or when you would ever be able to return home. There is no place like home. I’m sure that Dorothy, that fictional character in The Wizard of Oz, is not only one who knows this piece of folksy wisdom. Imagine that things could be even worse; you might not even escape with your entire family intact.

I have met a number of refugees in my small city whose parents were sent far away from them. These refugees must have sponsors and each sponsor can only support a given number of refugees. The people I met did not know our language and they had to send their children to school and get to the market and learn a whole new culture in a total immersion fashion that is obviously quite stressful. And yet these refugees smiled and were so gracious. I try to put myself in their place but I cannot imagine that I would be able to keep my anxiety and frustration to myself. If people went to a center first where they were taught some of the language of their host country, where they learned how to shop, and budget their money, and use public transportation, life in their new communities would be so much more comfortable and so much less confusing.

Then we might not have to watch people who were just trying to get to safety drown in an angry sea. All lives matter.

By Nancy Brisson

I Went to a Digital Boot Camp

Last Thursday I paid a reasonable fee and spent the day (well half the day, I’ll explain later) at a Boot Camp for Digital Marketing Google-style. The idea was generated by the Syracuse Media Group and Syracuse.com and they also organized and led most of the sessions at the workshop. In addition they fed us a very nice lunch.

There was a keynote speaker, Sheldon Bernstein, to open the day. He came from Google in NYC for the workshop. He spoke again at the end of the “Boot Camp”. Emphasis was placed on SEO and SEM – Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing. There are tools made up of algorithms that give Google a way to digitally analyze businesses that use the internet to advertise their product or service and/or to sell their product or service. It helps Google decide, without prejudice (as much as possible) who will pop up in an online search and in what order. That’s how Google sorts out those entries that appear on the first page of the search response.

Of course, businesses with large budgets can afford more sophisticated and effective IT staff, but if a company is savvy in ingesting and utilizing Google marketing strategies they can perform quite well, especially in a local search.

There was also emphasis in this whole-day series of presentations on making sure that businesses understand the processes for going mobile. If you aren’t adjusting your ads and making sure that they look good and work well on phones and tablets then you won’t be competitive in the current environment.

Here’s a list of the workshops that were offered:

SEO and Social Media

Mobile and Video

SEM and Content Marketing

Audience Targeting

Google Analytics 101

Google Analytics 201

Syracuse Media Group also took the time to look up the website/s of each participant and complete an individualized analysis of where each participant’s website/s ranks according to key Google parameters.

Clearly Syracuse Media Group (and Google) gave us an excellent day but they also hoped to tempt some attendees to contract for their one-on-one consultation services which could help people like me whose brains grasp the purpose of these techniques, but whose computer skills aren’t quite up to implementing them. Many people need a hands-on service like this and I believe it will make them quite happy to know that this team of experts is available right here in town.

I did not stay for the afternoon sessions because of personal reasons but the morning set the tone and I am not afraid to predict that the day’s events came to a satisfactory conclusion. As a blogger I do not make any money at all, so I would not be able to afford the services offered by this business. I feel this makes me sort of an objective observer of this event. Good suggestions were offered but they tended to be somewhat abstract. I hope this group will come up with some variation on this theme, perhaps increase the fee for the day, and parse some of the procedures in more concrete ways. Even so, I am guessing the companies who sent staff to this Boot Camp got back some good upgrades in their digital advertising.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – Book

Last year we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion at Normandy. This might explain the small flurry of titles which cover the German occupation of France and which tell of the relief felt by Frenchmen everywhere when the Allies invaded at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Some of these books also mark the day that lives in infamy in French history, the day when the Jews of Paris were rounded up and forced to stay in the Velodrome d’Hiver (an indoor winter cycling track) until they could be transported to concentration camps in Germany.

These stories relate history but they are also personal. They nurture self-examination. If our country was occupied by an enemy we feared, an enemy that had already conquered and subdued proud nations which also treasure their autonomy, how would we behave?

In these novels about occupied France authors show us the choices. Citizens who don’t have to go out in public except to shop could perhaps lay low, but this option did not work for many Frenchmen or women. You could “collaborate” with your occupiers as many business people were practically forced to do. Some citizens, however, were more opportunistic and saw “collaboration” as a way to prosper. And with great care and in total secrecy you could join a resistance movement and find ways to work around your occupiers, or pass on insider information about them to their enemies, or to harass and harry them. Some resisters were able to save a small number of Jewish French citizens or their children but this was very difficult as people had to be hidden, fed, and clothed, almost impossible to do with aggressive German troops everywhere.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is the story of Isabelle Rossignol, a fictional French woman, rebellious since she was a girl, who joins the Resistance in France. She always wanted to do something heroic and she finds a way to fulfill that dream. She ‘collects’ downed Allied pilots and hikes with them over the Alps into Spain. Her last name means nightingale and it became her “tag” of heroism. She becomes famous as the Nightingale and she puts her life in jeopardy over and over again. Although she is not a real person, people really did do things just as heroic as Isabelle’s rescues.

She also had a sister, Vianne, who had no heroic inclinations. She had the life she loved as a mom and wife and a school teacher, at least she did until Germany marched into France. Her husband left to go fight with a woefully unprepared French army and was captured and forced to spend the war in a German work camp and his wife was left to live in a village that now belonged to her German captors. Vianne eventually found her own way to be heroic.

Although this story does not have the fine literary qualities of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Hannah’s story is also well worth reading. Kristin Hannah covers the same historical events and both stories are set mostly in France. Although The Nightingale does not represent any one real figure she does remind us that many French men and women found ways to resist their captors and did so pretty much right under their noses. Kristin Hannah also gives us a wrenchingly clear view of the deprivations suffered by the people of France when Germany started to lose the war and food and clothing and supplies became almost impossible for the French people to find. Conquered people all over Europe suffered terrible deprivations and there would have been mass starvations had they not been rescued just in time. The way the lives of ordinary French people in the countryside were affected is described well in this novel.

This was an excellent story and I did shed a few tears. We will never really know if we could resist a fearful foe living right amongst us until we encounter such a moment and I am sure we all pray that will never happen.

By Nancy Brisson

Stripped Down Government: Hot Rod or Junker?

We have all heard the Republican talking points about a million times, or perhaps a billion. We know that they believe that smaller government is the ticket. When they speak about smaller government they are not always very specific about what that means. Some Republicans want the government to divest itself of all of what they categorize as socialist influences. The want to end the programs of the FDR New Deal that remain and they want to get rid of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the poverty programs and the affirmative action programs. That would mean that welfare goes, Social Security goes, housing assistance programs get tossed out, Medicaid goes, Medicare goes, and education will no longer be a concern of the federal government. Consumer affairs will come back off the roster and environmental concerns will no longer be the bailiwick of our representatives in Washington.

I don’t know if every Republican running for office agrees with this whole agenda, but the Republican Party has a lot of wealthy masters and they have a lot of support groups which also, on the negative side, often become pressure groups. Any time you listened to Republicans on Meet the Press over the past 6 years they all reiterated the same list of (obviously Party-approved) talking points. Since they now realize that we have caught on to this and that it makes them sound a bit robotic, they seem to have abandoned this tactic. They still all the say the same things but they are allowed to use their own words a bit more often (or perhaps the Party has written individual scripts). The actual talking points are the same ones we have listened to for the past six years.

Well, I will say that getting rid of all these social programs would certainly trim our budget. Would our taxes stay the same? Would they stop taking Medicare and Social Security “contributions” out of our paychecks? While we might enjoy that at first could we buy the same level of care and old age security with the money that was returned to our paychecks? Perhaps employers would just trim back our pay since they would no longer be required to send funds to the federal government for health care and employee retirement? I have always thought that health care should be separate from employment and since the Hobby Lobby decision I believe that even more strongly. But will we really use additional money in our paychecks to buy our own health care and pay into a retirement plan, or will we be the happy-go-lucky American consumers we have been trained since birth to be and just “spend it up”? If we are issued a voucher to buy our own health insurance and retirement plan will the voucher cover the costs of these two items? If, as Republicans wish, business is confronted by a much lower level of regulation, won’t the costs of health care keep creeping up and won’t they always outpace what we can afford? Will our retirement plans give us the returns we need to live on in our old age, or will the returns fall far short of ever higher living costs? Does a voucher system make you feel secure?

Closing the Department of Education opens whole other cans of popping snakes. Will there be national standards for teachers and schools? How much will education vary from state to state? Will a person schooled in Alabama be able to seek employment in New York City? Is this all about the passion some folks have for putting the Bible into schools and setting science on a back burner, because most scientific discoveries do not appear in the Bible (a book written 2,000 years ago). There is no Darwin in the Bible; there is no Einstein in the Bible; the Bible does not talk about climate change (although if I remember my Leviticus the Bible gives believers a lot of rules to help them live a healthy life in the world they lived in at that time). I do not understand how having differing school standards in each of our states will be a good thing.

I do not see that we have managed to wipe out poverty in America yet, so it seems counterproductive to throw out the matrix of services we have developed to at least try to save poor people from scraping bottom. I know that Republicans think that the matrix we created has become as harmful and controlling as the fictional Matrix that Keanu Reeves saves humans from. I have heard them say again and again that we are now making it too easy for poor people to find a comfortable spot on the grid and just hang there. And while I agree that there may be people who do that, I don’t agree that this describes the vast majority of poor people who find themselves consistently at the bottom because they lack skills and perhaps do not understand the value of training and education or because their pay is so low that even if they get a foot up the grid, the slightest crisis sends them back to their previous level or below it. How many times will you keep trying to move up the matrix, if you keep failing to find a sustainable new level?

I don’t like this kind of Social Darwinism. American success is about survival of the fittest this theory goes; either find a way up or see if someone will be charitable. So while Congress keeps fixing the laws so that fewer and fewer dollars must be divided by more and more people, while the wealthiest Americans roll in money and put a foot in the face of the climbers, they also want to dismantle any assistance for those trapped at the bottom. This is not American in any sense of the word. This is the old world of aristocrats and serfs. This is a world with no middle class. This is a one way ticket back to the Dark Ages.

To some Republicans smaller government means that the Federal government would get rid of the IRS and would stop regulating business. Republicans tell us that if we deregulate, business will come flooding back to America and there will be a get big boom in economic activity and profit. I don’t know how much more profit the top 1% will have to corner to allow some largesse to overflow onto the peons but I suspect their appetites are quite voracious. There are not a lot of specifics mentioned in their deregulation plan. What businesses will come back? Will the steel industry come back? How about the electronics industry? Will the cooler business come home? Will we merely continue to move oil and gas and coal to other manufacturing nations? Republicans only talk about old businesses, businesses that we once had in America. They lead us to believe that deregulation will bring back the fifties. Will deregulation really provide our “new” prosperity? What about new innovative businesses? Will deregulation help us with that? Can we hang on to the car business? What about farming in America? What will the businesses of the future be; solar, wind, space industries, new infrastructure, environmental businesses to change the energy landscape of towns and cities? Could we possibly also become the world’s think tank and sell our innovations elsewhere to be implemented by others? Not if we keep making it more difficult and more expensive for Americans to go to college.

Are the people in the Republican base, who are holding America’s future hostage while they whine about how America has changed, really calling the shots in America? I think they are. They don’t want to be forced to wear seatbelts? They want the Federal government to get rid of consumer safety rules. They want the Federal government to make laws against things that violate their religious beliefs but to stay away from controlling their lifestyles. Well, not having so many rules does sound sort of appealing, but when vehicles collide and no one is restrained by a child seat or a seat belt the horror component in accidents rises and so do the medical and court costs. We have learned that what some people perceive as free costs the rest of us a lot of dollars. I would rather pay for someone’s college education than pay to rescue them from a troubled country where they should not have traveled in the first place. I contend that our loss of freedom is directly proportional to the rise in world population and is probably, in some measure, unavoidable.

The last “beef” I have with Republicans; at least the last one I will discuss here, is this atavistic push we are seeing to put Christianity into our government; to turn us into a Christian nation. It seems clear, however, that that ship sailed a long time ago. We have taken in people from every continent and every nation who have become citizens of America. It is too late to declare our country a Christian nation. It would now violate our Constitution as it might not have when our nation was founded. The forefathers may not have foreseen Muslim Americans or Buddhist Americans or even Jewish Americans, but they all hated government telling anyone how to worship and they did not found a Theocracy, no matter how deeply your religious beliefs call on you to win converts to the church. I do have faith that a government can strive to be moral without being religious, but that the fairest way to have a moral government would have to be the simplest way, perhaps adhering to something like the Golden Rule.

If we want more efficient government, government that is more responsive to the needs of the American people, government that tries to control spending and keep debt within some kind of reasonable boundaries then I am all for that. Creating a Federal government that is pared to bone and offers no national oversight over a Capitalism that can become extremely rapacious, offers no succor to the neediest citizens, and offers no security to the hardworking middle is to create a barren government robbed of all traces of the idealism that was proudly built into our Democracy.

By Nancy Brisson

Playa’ Haters

Hillary Clinton is Nixonian. That is the newest annoying political meme on the right. This coded language draws an analogy between the missing 18 minutes of audio tape that became a bone of contention during the Watergate scandal and the allegedly missing emails that Hillary deleted from her private server after she downloaded the emails she handed in as the official record of her email correspondence during her time as our Secretary of State.

But wasn’t Nixon a criminal? Didn’t he commit some unacceptable activities when he covered up for his friends who got caught breaking into Democratic Headquarters? Wasn’t he almost impeached? The answer to each of these questions is “yes”.

http://www.history.com/topics/watergate

“While historians are not sure whether Nixon knew about the Watergate espionage operation before it happened, he took steps to cover it up afterwards, raising “hush money” for the burglars, trying to stop the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from investigating the crime, destroying evidence and firing uncooperative staff members. In August 1974, after his role in the Watergate conspiracy had finally come to light, the president resigned. His successor, Gerald Ford, immediately pardoned Nixon for all the crimes he “committed or may have committed” while in office.”

Only in the mind and in the presidential campaign propaganda of the Republicans does anything that Hillary Clinton has done equate with the things Richard Nixon did. Nixon was known to be prone to a deep paranoia and believed that everyone who criticized America or Nixon in any way was an enemy of America. Just read about his behavior towards John Lennon, who was an avowed pacifist, although highly critical of American politics under Nixon. Nixon treated the presidency like he and his cronies were holed up in the oval office under gunpoint and had to strategize their way out. Except that was not true and it turned the president’s role into that of a mafia don.

I know the Republicans want us to never forget Benghazi even though at least one embassy was also attacked on their watch (and we won’t forget because Americans died there). They want Hillary to pay for Benghazi because they don’t want to see Democrats in the White House any longer and they specifically do not want to see Hillary Clinton in the White House, ever. But Hillary is no crook. She did not plot with anyone against the Republicans no matter how hard they try to make it look that way. Although she may not have plotted against them, she may have had good reasons to distrust them. I don’t know why she chose to use a private email server or to use her own personal email address for official business. It may have been more secure but it looks unprofessional. Governments change slowly and big governments change even more slowly, and email has not been used in official circles for very long so protocol may not have been set in concrete. It could make it look like Hillary is covering something up but I don’t believe that she is. If she were she would probably just have deleted a few emails and handed over the server. I think she decided not hand over her server as a matter of precedent and principle, but I, of course, do not really know.

Obviously Hillary doesn’t need me to defend her nor does she even have any idea that I am defending her, but when Republicans make these ridiculous analogies – Obama is like Hitler; Hillary is like Nixon – I just have to say something. I can’t let everyone think that I, or any Democrat, believe this kind of name-calling and guilt by association constitutes actual campaigning, although it seems to make Republicans quite happy. This is the kind of sniping we seem prone to these days, but if one side gets to play the other side gets to expose them as players. We get to be the playa’ haters.

By Nancy Brisson

Hillary Clinton versus the Bully Boys of the GOP

I completely understand the low key way that Hillary Clinton has decided to enter the 2016 Presidential campaign. She is not looking at a primary yet and arrayed against her are the boys of the GOP, the many, many bully boys of the GOP. Every one of these good ole boys has a sheaf of critical arrows to unleash at Hillary. Keeping a low profile sounds like a great idea. Although I’m sure Hillary can handle them, it would require a lot of energy and time that could be put to better use.

Only one of these guys will actually win at the GOP convention and become the official candidate of the Republican Party. Why should Hillary take them on now en masse when she can just hold her council and wait until we know who gets the GOP nod? It doesn’t look like the media will cut her any slack and focus on the multiple Republican primary candidates at this time while giving the single Democratic primary candidate time to stay under the line of fire until after the Republican National Convention.

Will Hillary hold up well against all this testosterone and fraternal crapery (all right I made up this word, it comes from crap)? Perhaps she is unflappable and will hold up fine. It sure wouldn’t hurt to let her know that we are with her through this stage of her campaign where she is so outnumbered. It might be a good thing to have a couple of other candidates in the race to draw away some of the fire. Emily’s List we’re counting on you and on all the other girl power groups that everyone makes so much ado about to make sure that Hillary is not caught up in some fatal flaw before we can vote for her in November, 2016. You know that old warning that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Right now the distance between the cup and the lip is very big.

By Nancy Brisson

The Imitation Game – Movie

Before we met Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang) we might have found it difficult to understand Alan Turing of the movie The Imitation Game. Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) has no sense of humor, and although Sheldon is, as TV tells us, “very funny” we are usually laughing at him rather than with him. Both of these men have long, thin attenuated bodies. It is clear to their peers that each of these men lacks social skills. Both are self-absorbed and conceited and arrogant because they know that the greatest gift they were given was a genius brain and that they were given very few other skills to back those brains up. I am guessing that these days both Sheldon and Alan would land on the autism spectrum.

Sheldon Cooper is a fiction, a character created to be fun and perhaps to make intelligence more acceptable. Alan Turing was a real person and his genius for codes really did help us win World War II. He made a computer that related to modern computers the way an abacus relates to modern calculators. But his beast of a “computer” decoder made of gears and wires and electrical connections worked.

The story of Alan’s achievement was one that involved opposition, especially the hostilities of one particular officer who happened to be in charge of the whole project. He was a man of no imagination and he was full of hate because he could not accept that someone with Alan Turing’s predilections should be allowed anywhere except in a jail. Alan Turing was a homosexual in an England that punished those who were publically discovered. There were enlightened people also at that time who saw that one’s sexual orientation did not necessarily prevent a person from making a contribution to society.

There is suspense. Everyday Germany picks a new code with their Enigma machine. Every night Enigma generates an entirely new code. England has collected the best code breakers in the nation and Alan Turing is the best of the best. Those who choose him never imagine in their wildest moment that Alan will build the code breaking machine that he builds. They expect him to sit quietly at a desk in a room full of code breakers and work with pencil and paper. Because the code changes every 24 hours Turing discovers that pencil and paper will not do, a more inventive approach is required.

Under the disapproving eye of his nemesis Alan Turing puts together a crack team of code breakers that he finds through a contest which features a cross word puzzle. This is how Joan Clarke (played by Kiera Knightly) becomes the only woman on his team, but a team member who cannot work with the team openly.

This film may sound dry as old dust but it is not. It has its own brand of suspense and derring-do and what Alan Turing did required its own brand of courage. Although it may seem to be about another age and another time I watched this movie On Demand just as we were sorting out the controversy over Indiana’s religious freedom law (RFRA). There was an uproar because this law had some flaws which turned it into more of a law to discriminate against those whose sexual orientation is categorized as “other”, in case they should want to marry in Indiana and offend someone’s religious beliefs.

There is a French saying “plus ça change, plus et la meme chose”, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Obviously this movie still has cultural relevance and perhaps that is part of the reason that it won awards at the 2014 Oscars.

By Nancy Brisson