Foreign Governments, Treason and Elections

I’ve avoided wading into this one until I’d had time to really think about it.  As of this morning, we know that Russia was involved in hacking the DNC and RNC servers and only released information about the DNC.  There is evidence that Putin personally was involved.  There is some information indicating that the Trump campaign knew this was happening and said nothing.

The White House released this information initially last Friday and continued to release new information over the course of this week.  They are being criticized for releasing the information after the election to cast doubt on Trump’s legitimacy.  If it had been released before the election there would probably have been an accusation of using Intelligence information for political purposes.  Its a no win from Trump’s perspective, but why?  He was claiming things were rigged all along, but its looking like it was rigged in his favor.

IF Trump knew about this before hand or worked with the Russians to maximize value, I would argue that is (a) treason and (b) indication that he is unfit for the office.

This information combined with the pro-russia picks for his cabinet paint a pretty bad picture for Trump.  His repeated disparagement of the intelligence community, who he should count on as POTUS, doesn’t help the perception of his lack of ties to Russia.

During the election he said that everyone was against him and that only he could fix things.  He sang the praises of Putin, but claimed to not know him.  He surrounded himself with people with ties to Putin or his Government.  Now this information about meddling in the election.  At what point do we say that with all this smoke there must be a fire somewhere?

It is no surprise to anyone that I am not a fan of Trump and I am legitimately scared of the damage he could do to the country.  Our elected officials and electors need to take this new information seriously.  We cannot let a foreign government influence our election and put in place someone that will materially help them.

WTF?

Its no surprise that countries interfere in internal politics.  We do it, Russia does it, everyone does it.  Most of the times its behind the scenes and no one pays attention outside of the people doing it.  This is the case and has been the case as long as there have been different countries, settlements, kingdoms.

I am really concerned with a real life Manchurian Candidate kind of thing going on.  Look at all of the ties to Russia in Trump’s cabinet picks.  This isn’t even trying to hide it.

I am encouraged that the GOP leadership and the electors are at least saying the right things.  The question is whether something comes of it.  The integrity of our government really requires transparency here.

The myth of foreign terrorists

There is a popular narrative in America that terrorism is the domain of non-citizens mass killing Americans.  While there have been some incidents that have been covered endlessly in the media, there are other incidents that are conveniently left out of this narrative.  Lets look at a sampling of the list since the 80s:

  1. 2016 – OSU attack, 1 killed, 13 injured (foreign, terrorism related)
  2. 2016 – NY & NJ bombings, 0 killed, 35 injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  3. 2016 – Pulse nightclub, 50 killed, 53 injured.  (domestic, terrorism related)
  4. 2015 – San Bernadino, 14 killed, 24 injured (domestic, unclear)
  5. 2015 – Charleston Church, 9 killed, 3 injured (domestic)
  6. 2015 – Planned Parenthood Colorado, 3 killed, 9 injured (domestic)
  7. 2014 – Las Vegas Shootings, 5 killed (domestic)
  8. 2013 – Washington Navy Yard, 13 killed, 8 injured (domestic)
  9. 2013 – Boston Marathon, 6 killed, 230 injured (foreign, terrorism related)
  10. 2012 – Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, 7 killed, 4 injured (domestic)
  11. 2012 – Aurora Theatre, 12 killed, 70 injured (domestic)
  12. 2012 – Sandy Hook Elementary, 28 killed, 2 injured (domestic)
  13. 2010 – Pentagon Shooting, 1 killed, 2 injured (domestic)
  14. 2010 – Austin suicide attack , 2 killed, 13 injured (domestic)
  15. 2009 – Binghamton shooting, 14 killed, 4 injured (domestic)
  16. 2009 – Ft Hood shooting, 13 killed 32 injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  17. 2009 – Little Rock recruiting office, 1 killed, i injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  18. 2009 – assassination of George Tiller, 1 killed (domestic)
  19. 2008 – Times Square bombing, no injuries (unknown)
  20. 2007 – Virginia Tech, 33 killed, 17 injured (domestic)
  21. 2006 – Seattle Jewish Federation Shooting, 1 killed 6 injured (domestic, possible terrorism)
  22. 2006 – Capitol Hill massacre, 7 killed, 2 injured (domestic)
  23. 2006 – UNC SUV attack, 0 killed 9 injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  24. 2005 – Glendale Train Crash, 11 killed, 177 injured (domestic)
  25. 2002 – LAX shooting, 3 killed 4 injured (foreign, terrorism)
  26. 2002 – DC Sniper, 10 killed, 3 injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  27. 2001 – anthrax attacks, 5 killed, 17 injured (domestic)
  28. 2001 – 9/11, ~3000 killed (foreign terrosim)
  29. 2000 – New York terror attack, no injuries (domestic)
  30. 1999 – Acworth, GA, 15 killed, 13 injured (domestic)
  31. 1999 – Columbine, 8 killed, 24 injured (domestic)
  32. 1995 – Oklahoma City Bombing, 168 killed, 680 injured (domestic)
  33. 1991 – Luby’s massacre, 24 killed, 27 injured (domestic)
  34. 1990 – GMAC shooting, 12 killed, 6 injured (domestic)
  35. 1987 – Happy Land fire, 87 killed, 6 injured (foreign/domestic)
  36. 1987 – Pacific Southwest Airlines Crash, 43 killed (domestic)
  37. 1986 – Edmond post office, 15 killed, 6 injured (domestic)
  38. 1984 – McDonald’s massacre, 22 killed, 19 injuries (domestic)

The overwhelming majority of the major shooting, bombings, etc were perpetrated by Americans.  These are for various reasons including mental illness, grievances against the government, workplace violence and politically motivated attacks that have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism.  Of the 38 documented here, 11, less than a third, are terrorism related and of those many are inspired by terrorist groups, not carried out by them.  Only 4, including 9/11, were perpetrated by foreign nationals.  Outside of 9/11 the incident with the most loss of life was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, which was committed by a US citizen against the government for the Waco incident.

We need to have a real discussion about what motivates people to kill others in massive attacks.  The problem is not terrorism, but it is a convenient political tool when you want to keep the population focused on external boogie men.

Let me be clear, there are people out there that want to harm America.  For the most part they are unable to do so because we are far away.  But restricting immigration does not address the cause of most incidents.  US citizens are far more likely to kill other citizens in high profile attacks.

Let’s stop saying that all mass shootings, bombings, etc are the result of foreign terrorists.  Let’s be honest in our reporting and show the real data to people.  Claiming that it all comes from without is (a) disingenuous and (b) takes our eyes off of real problems.  It whips people up into a frenzy and will result in us giving up freedoms unnecessarily and keep us from helping refugees that really need our help.

Business != Government

There is a popular refrain that because Trump is a successful business man he should be able to fix a lot of the problems with Government.  I see the appeal in this thought but its just plain wrong.

From talking to various people the thought process goes like this:

1. he has created a successful business

2. he has learned how to control costs

3. he has learned how to hold employees accountable for performance

4. government costs too much and isn’t accountable

5. he should be able to fix things.

Reasonable logic on the face of it. Lets go through point by point.

For the sake of argument I’ll take it as a given that he’s successful.  I’m not sure how anyone can bankrupt a casino, but he’s accumulated a lot of wealth; not as much as he’s claimed but a lot.

Anyone in business needs to balance the books or go out of business via bankruptcy or selling to another company.  He’s done both of these.  That is not an option with The US Government.  It would have serious consequences to the world.  Without this lever, will he be able to do the necessary things?  He will probably be able to find some waste in government but will he be able to get the other people in the checks & balances system to agree?  There are vested interests all around that want some of that spending in place because it creates jobs and lines pockets.  His skills in business are not well suited to dealing with that problem.

As for holding people accountable, I hope he can do some of that.  The problem is, in a company he is all three branches of government rolled into one.  He doesn’t have that control as POTUS.  He cannot unilaterally make decisions.  The Constitution specifically denies him that power to avoid an authoritarian, king-like figure.  He has spent his entire career calling all the shots, making the decisions and making people do his bidding.  In Government we call that a King or a Dictator.

We can all agree that there is a lot of waste in government and there are numerous examples of contractors getting deals that allow endless cost overruns and late deliveries.  Part of that is expected when pushing the fringes of what is possible, e.g. new military equipment or space hardware.  I hope that his business savvy examines some of this, but ultimately Congress dictates where money is spent and allocates the funds.  His job is to execute the plans that are approved.

The last point is a big one.  He probably won’t be able to fix things.  I think he knows that.  He’s appointing people with no experience or explicit conflicts of interest to posts.  His appointments are putting the foxes in charge of the hen house.  Human nature is to do things that are in your own self interest and it is difficult to get people with power to act against their own self interests.  He has said that he wants “people that have made a ton of money” to help fix things.  The problem there is that those people have spent their lives working for their own best interests, does anyone else thing that will change because the got a new job?  That’s naive at best.

To summarize, I posit that the skills to run a business are not the ones necessary for an executive office.  The roles between chief executive of the USA is not the same as CEO or president of a company; there are too many differences in what you can and cannot do.  If a business person really wants to make a difference, go into Congress. There is much more power to influence the budget and actually craft the laws to force change.  Focus on removing pork and riders from legislation.  Work on the process of crafting laws.  Dictate the things that the executive must do with the funding you provide them.  That is a much better fit than POTUS.

He won the electoral votes.  He is most likely going to be the president.  I’m hoping that Congress, as dysfunctional as it is, does the right thing and keeps him in check.  I’m hoping that SCOTUS keeps him in check.  I’m hoping that the ACLU, NAACP, etc keep him in check.  I’m hoping that we, the American people, who he will swear to serve, will keep a close eye on him and call shenanigans when it goes off the rails.

There is frustration with our Government because its not really governing and is a den of corruption.  This is natural.  When you are given power and offered things that will make things better for you and your family, how many would say, “no, that’s not right for the country”?  I’m guessing many fewer than will say they will.  The temptation is always there and it takes a strong will to stay on the straight and narrow path.

Trump and his appointments have demonstrated, that while good at business, that they will look out for their own interests.  It will be critical that the other branches uphold the Constitution and make sure that none of them is profiting from their service in the US government.

Holidays and thoughts on childhood

This is the wrong time of year for this conversation, but thinking about holidays, controversy and differences in beliefs got me thinking about an incident…

When I was a kid I loved Halloween.  Scratch that. I love Halloween even today.  “Free” candy, dressing up, wandering about after dark, plus as an adult, costume parties with people wearing outfits that are impractical or too small to keep warm.

As a kid, it was great to dress up to go to school on halloween.  We basically got a big portion of our day not doing class work.  We all dressed up and had a parade.  All of the elementary school kids participated.

When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade there was a kid in my class that was a Jehovah’s Witness.  I didn’t know what that meant.  I didn’t know about the people that go door to door trying to tell you about their religion.  He was just another kid.  The other odd thing, from a kids perspective, was that he didn’t celebrate Halloween.  That was unfathomable to me; why did his parents punish him like that.  Kids don’t understand a lot of things.

Anyway, he was the only kid without a costume that day.  We all felt bad for him.  The teachers took it upon themselves to dress him up like a crossing guard.  It wasn’t a great costume but he got to participate in the parade.  As a kid I thought this was a great thing.

Now, as an adult, I know the teachers meant well.  This is an odd situation because you have someone with religious beliefs that don’t allow him to participate but from a social standpoint it may be better not to single him out.

The problem I have with this is the same problem I have with prayer in school.  If we advocate prayer in school, kids that do not pray may feel obligated to participate, thereby infringing on their right to practice their beliefs, or lack of.  By dressing this kid up, we negated his beliefs and those of his parents.

I think that this is the cause of eliminating Christmas pageants, Halloween parades, etc. It may feel like punishing everyone else, but as American’s we need to respect the fact that this country was founded on religious freedom.  The pilgrims came here because they didn’t want to be forced to practice another religion and were discriminated against or persecuted.  The kid at halloween is just an example, no where near the level of 17th century persecution of our forbearers, but disrespect for others beliefs none the less.

I think this goes along with yesterday’s post.  We all need to be more tolerant of other’s beliefs.  Just because you are in the majority doesn’t mean you get to force your beliefs on another.  As the majority it is your duty to protect those in the minority. That’s the American way.

Manufactured controversy – Christmas Edition

Its the holidays again and time for the annual “war on Christmas” crap.

There is no war on Christmas.  This is a canard intended to whip people into a frenzy when there is no need.

1. No one is telling you that you cannot say “Merry Christmas”.  It’s just not happening.  Because someone wishes you “Happy Holidays” doesn’t mean that this is an affront or stifling your practice of your religion.  It is them trying to respect everyone’s beliefs and not assuming that because you happen to be alive at Christmas in America that you are automatically Christian.

2. If a business says that the appropriate greeting to a customer is “Happy Holidays” or put a neutral message on their cups this is them doing business and wanting to be inclusive to the most broad group of customers.  If you are an employee of that business, it is your duty to your employer to speak to their customers how they direct.  The First Amendment does not hold in a private business.

That one I find particularly amusing because the same people that don’t want to serve certain customers because of “closely held religious beliefs” are now saying that other businesses cannot express their beliefs without offense.  A little hypocritical, don’t you think.

3. Schools have Holiday parties now because there is a diverse population and not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Why exclude small children who’s families do not hold the same beliefs?

The manufacturing of controversy absolutely exacerbates the divide within this country.  We have a diverse population, like it or not.  Christians will soon be a minority in this country.  I’m sure that is uncomfortable for many that are used to the privilege of being the majority belief system.  We all need to recognize that everyone’s beliefs matter and respect these differences.  Don’t take offense where none is intended.

If I wish you “Happy Holidays” I still am expressing that I am thinking of you or complying with social convention.  If I know you celebrate Christmas I may say “Merry Christmas” instead, but if I use the generic greeting I am not trying to offend you.  Taking offense at a polite greeting has more to do with you and less to do with the person delivering the greeting.  You might want to think about why you are offended.  Not everyone is out to get you.

Things I want in a candidate

I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about what I see coming in a Trump presidency.  I thought it might be helpful to talk about what I want in a candidate instead of talking about what I don’t want.

I would love to see a party or candidate that is pro-education, pro-women, pro-balanced budget, pro-science, anti-getting in my business, with support for a social safety net and elimination of those in governance positions defining morality via a set of religion based ideals for everyone

This is an idealistic position, I know.  Here are more specifics about what I want.

1. pro-education : Now more than ever it is critical that we are making good choices about how to make sure our children are given the tools they need to maintain progress in STEM fields.  A strong public education system is critical to everything we hold dear.  Out sourcing this to corporations that are motivated by profit instead of providing good education is the wrong approach.  I view that public funding of religious education violates the First Amendment.

2. pro-women : It is sad that this needs to be said.  Fully half of our population is not afforded equal protection and we have a lot of people in power making decisions about women’s health, jobs, compensation, family choices without really taking into account the realities of what it is to be a woman or their perspectives.

3.pro-balanced budget : beginning with Saint Ronnie the US deficit spending has gotten completely out of control.  We spend way more than we bring in and we are literally mortgaging the country and our decedents will pay the price.  We need to get back to more reasonable spending levels and that will take both budget cuts and tax increases to get things back under control.  Cutting taxes to spur economic growth has been shown not to work, and only results in those at the top making more money and not letting it “trickle down”.  Both of the major parties want to spend money we don’t have, the biggest difference is what they want to spend it on.

4. pro-science : Going along with #1 on the list, we need to make sure that we are teaching science in science classes, not made up bullshit without any basis in fact or commonly accepted understanding of the universe and how it works.  This extends into public policy because we are making political decisions by manipulating scientific findings instead of acknowledging the facts and then making policy decisions, even if they go against the scientific consensus for political reasons.  We undermine all confidence in science by manipulating it and it shows in the discourse over things like climate change.

5. anti-getting in my business : The government shouldn’t be focused on what i do in my personal life unless I am creating harm for someone else.  Who I sleep with, what I believe, how I spend my time, what I read… all of these are my business (and my family’s) and no one else’s.  There need to be social norms, but unless I am hurting another, why is the government involved?  There are lots of examples of what the government should do: military, currency, fire codes, building codes, tax collection, traffic management/enforcement, etc. but there are more examples of what shouldn’t be managed, the gender of your spouse, medical decisions, etc.

6. social safety net : Everyone needs help sometimes.  As a rich country, there is no reason that we shouldn’t be there to give everyone a helping hand.  I didn’t fully appreciate this until I was unemployed.  It took way longer to find a good position than I expected and we would have been in dire straights if it wasn’t for unemployment.  There are many families I know that have two working parents and still need help because their wages are low.  The picture of the “welfare mother” or “dead beat taking advantage of the system” is one that helps people absolve themselves when they choose to oppose these programs, but like anything, you will have those that abuse the system while the majority are trying to support themselves and get by.  We don’t look down on those that avoid paying taxes if they are rich businessmen because they are viewed as “smart” but I really don’t see this any differently from a welfare cheat.  Fortunately the majority of us play by the rules as much as we can and we shouldn’t punish the majority for the actions of a few.  Private charities do a wonderful job in this regard, but we shouldn’t outsource all of this because we don’t need to.

7. defining morality based on a single religion : For a long time there has been a swing in American politics to give special treatment to some religions and disparage others.  This is appalling because this was exactly what our founders and early immigrants were trying to get away from.  We do not have a state sponsored religion and specifically have the right to religious choice.  Claiming discrimination because of equal treatment for all, and trying to legislate special treatment for some, is distinctly un-American.  It is an affront to everything our soldiers have died to defend.  This is one of the key drivers of the divisions within our country.  The problem is those wanting special treatment for one religion would lose their minds if another religion was given special treatment.  We need to come back to original views on this topic.

The problem I have with what I want is there isn’t a single party today that advocates all of this.  Some are closer than others.  How do we create a new thing that addresses everyone’s needs both now and for the future instead of playing to special interests that don’t have all of us in mind when making policy?

Gerrymandering is bullshit

There has been a lot of talk about the electoral college, gerrymandering and other built in impediments to fairness in our current system.  Lets start with an explanation of gerrymandering here and its history.

It seems like a reasonable thing to do, sort of.  You need to get roughly equal populations together and this is an interesting problem when there are wildly varying population densities.  The question becomes do you want a diverse group in each district or do you want homogeneity based on some set of factors?  This turns into a big philosophical problem because there are merits to either. I am firmly against it being based on the political party, because like gerrymandering, they are bullshit also.

Just to use a concrete example of the problem in Ohio.  In ohio 3 of 16 US Congressional districts are “Democratic”.  In the most recent presidential election voting split 52%-43.5% in Republican favor; this is similar to other elections and so on average I’m comfortable with a 50-50 split, but the exact number in this respect isn’t relevant to the argument.  If the proportion of people were reflected in congressional representation it should be more like 7-9 or 8-8.  Ohio has very different population densities because of the few cities and lots of farm or forest land.  Of the 88 counties the top 9 have > 50% of population.  Much of state is very sparsely populated.

I would argue that any system that can be manipulated by the incumbent party to ensure they maintain control is bad and any system that is neutral to race, political affiliation, income, etc is preferable.  I’ve thought a lot about this problem.  I would favor a system to most tightly group based on geography and provide for equal representation in each district my going just on population.  Make it so that the tightest packing of districts, minimizing the boarders would be fair in most respects and you couldn’t really manipulate the results.  A computer program to solve problem already exists.

We need to get back to a point where things are roughly equal instead of skewed by whoever happens to control the redistricting efforts every 10 years.  It exacerbates the bad feelings and doesn’t represent the population as a whole.

Objective Reality

So, last week a Trump surrogate went on the news (Diane Rehms specifically) and argued that there is no truth and everyone can have their own version of reality.  This flies in the face of everything that modern, democratic societies depend upon.

How can we have a reasoned discourse to agree on a path forward without at least agreement on FACTS.  We can have our own interpretations and opinions on the meaning of the facts, that is expected, but we cannot have our own facts.

And so Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd—a large part of the population—are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some—amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies and that there are no facts to back it up.”

This is a dangerous place to be.  If we can say whatever we want, don’t back it up with facts, we really are in a dystopia.  This gets into the realm of organized propaganda and revisionist truth that totalitarian communist regimes practices in the 20th century and Orwell warned about in Animal Farm and 1984.  This is where we need the press, in a non-partisan way, to start fact checking things, calling politicians of all stripes out on manufactured truth, and provide references on their facts.

The funny thing it is the Republican party’s leader (or surrogate) that is saying that there are no facts.  This is the type of relativism that historically they have accused the Left of embracing, and now they are taking it to a whole new level.

It is a failure of the American Public that we take everything that anyone says as truth if it is on TV or FaceBook or some random blog.  The Internet and World Wide Web are wonderful tools but they don’t have built in mechanisms to weed out random crap.  With print media, because there is limited space for content, only the strongest pieces make it forward.  Fortunately/Unfortunately anyone, literally anyone, can publish what looks like a professional website and put whatever content they want on it.  This fuels the perception that they are legitimate news outlets and often they are very biased in what they report (at best) and/or manufacture whatever sounds good knowingly or purposefully.

This gets back to things I’ve said before.  We need to work on educating our youth.  We also need to get back to putting standards on news content and clearly differentiate what is news and what is opinion.  For example, Fox News has about an hour of news a day and the rest of their content is largely opinion which leads to confusion for many.  

I am not saying by any stretch that Fox should be restricted in what they can say, it is their right, but I do think that we should have a requirement to mark things as “not news” very clearly.  Just like we restrict what can be said on medications and you need to be able to back up health claims on a medication, or warning labels on cigarettes, we need warnings that information doesn’t rise to the level of fact checked so we can maintain the health of our reasoning faculties.

Public shared infrastructure

Roads are a wonderful thing.  So are Police and Fire departments.  Great examples of why we have taxes.  We all benefit from shared infrastructure, it enables commerce, thereby allowing us all to prosper.  They make modern cities and economies possible.  Without this shared infrastructure, paid for by all of us, we would live in a very different world.

If someone suggested that they didn’t like our roads, police or fire departments, how would we address the problem?  We’d probably suggest that we look into why we have problems and, if necessary, provide additional funding through tax increases.  We have levies like this all the time.

In no rational society would we suggest that it is reasonable for citizens to setup their own roads and police departments, run them along side of the existing ones, and take their portion of tax money for this shared infrastructure to fund the building of this parallel infrastructure just like we wouldn’t fund setting up a second currency (printing money is paid for with taxes).

But when it comes to education, that is exactly what school vouchers are doing.  Let me be clear, if someone wants to setup a private school, religious or not, go right ahead.  My issue is with using the tax dollars that are to benefit everyone through educating our children for private institutions.  They take money from schools that already have shortages of the resources they need and further reduce those funds. We are setting public schools up to fail, and reinforcing the perception that private or charter schools can do better.

Education shouldn’t be a money making enterprise.  It should be about providing the best education to all of our children.  If people want to opt out of what is offered they have that right.  They shouldn’t get to take their taxes away from that because they don’t like the service.  They still benefit from the economy built by everyone else’s use of the education system.

Let’s say I don’t like how much money our military is spending.  Should I get to pull my tax dollars out to fund something I like better?  I get the benefit of everyone else paying for it but I can do something else.  Should we each be able to opt out of paying for any government services we don’t like?  If I don’t drive, should I get a rebate on my road taxes?  If I use only credit cards, can I stop paying for printing of money? No rational person would suggest this is reasonable.

There are many things that the private sector does better than government. But let us remember that the private sector is enabled by the common infrastructure that we all pay for.  It is our duty to pay for these common services so that we all benefit.  Privatization of public services only leads to a profit motive for the use of the public services and results in a very unhealthy dynamic that doesn’t focus on the welfare of the public, but on the welfare of the corporation.

I am all for corporations.  I’ve worked for a number of them and am proud of the things that I have contributed to making them successful.  I invest in corporations and am a wholehearted supporter of capitalism.  But a corporation’s primary purpose is to create wealth for its investors, not to be altruistic or look out for the good of others, unless it serves their profit motive.  To suggest otherwise is naive or disingenuous.

We need to make sure that we make reasonable choices when privatizing services.  It is not always going to be cheaper when you look at the whole picture, it may not provide the services we thought we’d get but it will always make a profit for the corporation that takes over the job.