Number of Days Until The 2020 General Election

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Mississippi Bill Will Allow Guns In Churches

On March 30th, 1981 President Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. just short of 70 days into his administration.  Three others were wounded as well, including press secretary James Brady.  Three decades later Brady would die from complications of his wounds.  I've always wondered why gun enthusiasts claim that arming good guys is the only way to stop bad guys from killing people.  After all the clarion call has always been, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."  What I find amazing is here is an instance where a sitting POTUS, surrounded by highly trained and armed secret service personnel, was not able to avoid being shot with three others.  There was no doubt Reagan was surrounded by a small army of armed 'good guys,' including local police and was not able to avoid being shot by an individual who was not trained in the usage of firearms.  As far as I'm concerned, that 'good guy with a gun' argument falls apart irrevocably with, not only this instance, but many more that have the same circumstances.

Now we see the governor of Mississippi signing into law a bill that is based entirely on that canard about "good guys with guns:"
"The Church Protection Act, as sent to [Mississippi Gov. Bryant's] desk, allows individuals selected by the church's governing body to carry weapons into the church for protection purposes. It also does not require people to have a permit to carry a holstered weapon."
Naturally the bill's proposal was, according to its sponsor, in response to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina shooting spree in June of 2015 that killed nine.  Republican State Representative Andy Gipson makes it clear Churches needed to arm themselves for protection against future incidents like those in Charleston, SC.

It seems to me the only way to stop such incidents of "bad guys with guns" is to be mind readers  as well to quickly figure out who "the bad guy is" and not be surprised when a gun is produced and the shooting starts.  Unfortunately for State Representative Andy Gipson I don't think there is a bill that will fill that requirement.

As one might expect the bill wasn't met with universal approval, especially by those that will be most affected by this urban myth of 'good guys  with guns:"
Those opposing the bill, including the Mississippi Association of Police Chiefs, have argued that it removes important restrictions on who may obtain a permit."This bill would put law-enforcement officers and all Mississippians directly in harm’s way," Ken Winter, the group's executive director, said in February.
What's interesting is the Mississippi Association of Police Chiefs is all a bunch of "good guys with guns" and they don't seem very happy about this legislation.  I mean, after all, who wants hear from a bunch of people who have direct experience with people who shouldn't be allowed with a permit in the first place?  Right?

Bernie Sanders Wanting His Cake and Eating It Too

I almost did not watch this past Thursday's Democratic debate on CNN.  As a Floridian I've already voted in our state primary back on March 15 when Hillary was a big winner.  I had decided that watching yet another deliberation on the variations of liberal and center-left policy arguments was a waste of time since my mind had already been made up and my vote cast.  As a Hillary supporter I recognize that my liberal proclivities should pull me more toward Bernie than her.  But I'm also a pragmatist and I'm more comfortable with her ability to face down the reign of attacks on the Democratic candidate by a well funded GOP than I would be with Bernie.  What concerns
me about him leading the ticket is the fact the GOP smear machine will make the word 'Socialist' his first name in every social medium possible.

Having said all that I did watch most of the debate because I had decided I wanted to watch the dynamic between them to see if they were going to cut into each other beyond what is necessary to gain enough support for a victory in the coming New York primary this Tuesday, April 19th.  Right away I felt uncomfortable with their demeanor as they addressed one another.  After all I can just as easily vote for Bernie in the general election as I can Hillary no matter who wins.  I didn't like the tone both were taking with each other though I understand this is a political bare knuckle fight for the bounty of 240+ delegates at stake.  My point of this discussion is something that continues to bother me about Sanders and how Its really starting to turn me off about him.

Since the beginning of the campaign he has been going after Hillary steadily over her Wall Street connections and the money her campaign is receiving from the various firms that inhabit the financial capital of the country.  Then there is the continued call to release the transcripts of her paid presentations to a variety of various wall street firms.  The thing is I have no problem with her connections to the sinews of power that make up the core of the United States financial market matrix.  She should never apologize for that as it gives her power and gravitas to  work from within Wall Street and the financial community when she's in a position to initiate reforms which brings us to the crux of this discussion.

The list of Hillary's top donors seem to be missing one conspicuous organization in particular:  the NRA.  The thing is Sanders can't keep harping about who she gets or receives money from for her campaign when it can be proved she hasn't made a decision that favors them in a specific instance with a quid pro quo for contributions.  As for the NRA and her 'F' rating Sanders can't have it both ways attacking her for her connections with various Wall Street lobbying firms and their PAC money while she attacks the NRA lobby and the money from their PAC's rejecting a possible money stream to her campaign.  If she is so craven and crass to take money from any source this argument makes no sense.  

I would feel better if Bernie and Hillary both would confine their argument on the nuance of policy differences as opposed to attacking one another on moral grounds.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Donald Trump's Next Book: The Art of the Fine Whine

One of the fascinating aspects of Donald Trump's run for the White House is the aura of business acumen he projects as one of his greatest strengths.  He is never at a loss of words to describe his ability to always maneuver from a  position of strength to strike an agreement when he has the obvious advantage.  By his own admission he has a genius for being able to not only strike a deal where he is in a
win - win situation but to make the end result one where the other side always wants to come back for more.  There is a large segment of the population that still sits in awe of the successful business person with abilities to achieve high levels of success through a public persona that suggests a shield of invincibility all due to their own prowess and powers of persuasion.

According to the Donald his acumen and power to construct deals will be unmatched in contrast to a bunch of unimaginative and dull witted government bureaucrats not able to comprehend the power and strength of his abilities to conduct high level negotiations in a cut throat world of multinational deal makers.  They will fall to their knees in sheer bedazzlement at his ability to coerce reluctant and reticent lawmakers to come around to his agenda and beg for more.  This perceived aura is a common thread running through his supporters when you see them in interviews or panel discussions.  They feel he can achieve things no one else can while ignoring off putting characteristics that would spell certain doom for any other mortal denizen associated with public service through an elected office.  

This is where we come to the Donald's problem.  Over at Digby's blog, Hullabaloo, she has a great piece detailing Trump's sudden realization that maybe he isn't the man he thought he was dealing with people unaware of his powers and abilities.  It's suddenly becoming all to evident the tycoon who claims to be known for his genius at deal making is completely befuddled by a convoluted process with a labyrinth of rules and mechanisms for delegate selection:

[...]Donald Trump made it all the way to April of the primary season as front runner for the presidential nomination without being aware of [the GOP nominating process] says everything you need to know about his organizational acumen. It turns out that national politics isn't as simple as a branding deal with Macy's over ties and underwear. It isn't a Manhattan real estate negotiation either. But like so many wealthy men, he assumed that making all that money must make him a genius, so much so that he's capable of running the world by the seat of his pants.
To go a bit further there's more to it than his sudden discomfort from being in a position where he doesn't have the upper hand:
The Republican front-runner claims to be the world’s smartest businessman, a master at cutting deals and winning with his negotiating savvy. In recent days, though, he has been looking like a chump who bought property in Florida without reading the fine print stipulating the land was underwater and infested with alligators. Trump appears to have jumped into his campaign for president thinking all he needed to do was show up for the debates, call in to TV news shows and tweet out his random thoughts to a waiting world. Actually, thanks to the big boost he got from being a reality show celebrity, that approach did bring remarkable success in the early months of the presidential race.  Now, however, he is getting snookered in many states where the Cruz campaign is far better organized and knows how to exploit the delegate selection rules.

Since the early days of the primary calendar the Cruz campaign has been waiting for its moment to strike.  The Texas Senator patiently waited for caucus and primary states where the Trump campaign would be caught with its proverbial pants down with staff that were not only light in numbers but without knowledge of the ins and outs of that particular state's byzantine mechanism of delegate selection.   When Cruz's various state organizations pounced it was too late for Trump to react:
The Colorado system — precinct caucuses electing delegates to district and state assemblies, where they are selected for the national convention — isn’t undemocratic. But it rewards a different, more demanding and engaged sort of participation than a primary.  An accent on grass-roots organizing is not, by the way, a hallmark of establishment politics. In fact, it is the opposite. The classic conservative insurgent excels at organizing as a means to bypass the party’s gatekeepers and to make up for a lack of resources and media attention. Although the Cruz campaign is well-funded, it has the grass-roots DNA of this kind of insurgency, which it began as, and, in significant respects, still is.

Now Trump finds himself being defined not as the great deal maker with a wizard's touch and knowing smirk, but as the classic whiner who has managed to hone his high pitched complaint into the fine art of, "the whine."  As Rich Lowry over a Politico points out there is one more thing to add to the fact that Trump  has been put into a position where his failings in the primary process highlight how out of depth he is in the rough and tumble political world of grass roots campaigning: 
For all of Trump’s complaints, the nomination system was set up to favor the front-runner and get him over the top as soon as possible. It is a symptom of Trump’s weakness that, even as he romped through the first couple of months of the race and accumulated delegates out of proportion to his popular vote (about 45 percent of the delegates on 37 percent of the vote), he still might fall short of 1,237.

Over at Hullabaloo Digby puts a finer point on the optics for Trump and his veneer of invincibility and what it really means for his public persona:
This is an extremely important point. The rules were rigged. But they were rigged to favor Donald Trump. For a man who is selling himself as the greatest deal maker the world has ever known, he's having an awfully hard time closing one that was set-up for him to win from the very beginning.  So now he's claiming the election is being stolen.
As Trump has been perfecting his technique for the fine art of the whine the coup d'grace in all of this is his ability to readily admit to his penchant for doing just that, whine:
"I think [Rich Lowry] is probably right. I am the most fabulous whiner. I do whine because I want to win. And I'm not happy if I'm not winning. And I am a whiner. And I'm a whiner and I keep whining and whining until I win," he said. "And I'm going to win for the country and I'm going to make our country great again."
Trump "The Great Deal Maker" isn't finished just yet.  He still may win even if he comes up short of the delegates he needs to win the nomination in Cleveland this summer.  Considering all that's  happened to date though one thing is clear no matter if he wins or loses:  his next book will no undoubtedly be a best seller as well -  "Trump The Art of the Fine Whine."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Progress With Anti-Bullying Campaigns Nationwide Being Undermined By 2016 Election Campaign

For the first time in twelve years, since I've been teaching high school, there is a perceptible change taking place in my classroom dynamic.  My Muslim students, some whom I have known for two or three years are now telling me for the first time things are being said to them about their religion and who they are.  One young girl whom I've taught for two years told me that this year she's had something said to her about her belief system from several students, including ones she has known since beginning high school and that for the first time they felt uncomfortable about who they were.

I've also picked up rumblings from my students about LGBT's suddenly getting harassment in ways they've never experience before.  This goes for my black students as well who tell me they are hearing the 'N' word more often how than ever before.  There is no doubt something is happening in my school I've never experience before and apparently I'm not the only one:

"I think there's a real danger of harm taking place in all American schoolchildren," Maureen Costello, an education expert at the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), a civil rights group, told Al Jazeera."We've seen 10 or more years of anti-bullying work get rolled back by a hostile atmosphere in many schools. Teachers describe disillusionment, depression and discouragement among kids who feel like they now know what people have thought about them all along," Castello said.

What seems to be causing all of this?  The data from a Southern Poverty Law Center survey of some 2,000 schools across the nation appears to be unambiguous in its findings:

An SPLC survey of some 2,000 US schools found that two-thirds of teachers described their vulnerable students - including blacks, Muslims, Latinos and other minorities - as affected by rhetoric in the 2016 White House race.
It shows a spike in racist bullying. For Muslims - or even some non-Muslim brown-skinned children - the acronym "ISIS" has become a stock taunt, referencing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, which is also known as ISIS).
There doesn't seem to be any coincidence with the findings of this study and the 2016 campaign for the White House where a leading Presidential contender is talking about building walls and describing Mexican immigrants as anything but in a positive light.  At the beginning of businessman Donald Trumps campaign he started a firestorm with this opening gambit to the 2016 race for the White House:
“[Mexico] are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists,” the business mogul said.
The damage being done to the classrooms across the country seems to be undeniable.  The anti-bullying campaign being so assiduously used over the last 10 years now almost seems to be for naught with the prevailing atmosphere rolling in from the hateful rhetoric by the Republican side of the 2016 campaign.  The damage being done by the rhetoric of fear, anger and racism spilling out of the Donald Trump campaign is going to make it so much more difficult to roll back after such positive progress that seemed to be so evident with that nation-wide anti-bullying campaign.  I never imagined the source of ugly xenophobic rhetoric you would hear at this level would be rooted in the campaign for the White House.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

ICARE Community Initiatives Clouded By Mayor Curry's Pension Reform Issue As Conditional For Support

I was fortunate enough to attend the ICARE Nehemiah meeting on Monday, April 11th at the Abyssinia Baptist Church on Interstate Center Dr. For those unfamiliar with ICARE it is the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation, and Empowerment that is a coalition of 24 churches, mosques, and synagogues dedicated to improving the quality of life in Jacksonville, Florida by addressing neighborhood and city-wide justice issues important to our members. 

The evening event in question subjected the Abyssinia Church with an overflowing crowd that waited in anticipation for the expected appearance of Mayor Lenny Curry. It is no secret Mayor Curry was a reluctant participant to attend and had to be pressed into attending with constant entreaties from the ICARE community and the publicity surrounding his reticence. Once he was invited on stage to answer questions regarding the community initiatives supported by the ICARE board it came as no surprise that he based his administration commitment to the initiatives on the outcome of the pension issue currently simmering in the current local political discourse. In a nutshell Curry based his argument for giving a full commitment to the ICARE community initiatives on the 'success' of his pension reform plan which includes cutting pensions for city employees with a proposed shift to 401K's which have well known vulnerabilities as a retirement plan with details that go outside the purview of this discussion and can be discussed at a later date as it has a direct link to the pension issue. 

In 2011 Rick Scott instructed state and local governments to start cutting teacher salaries by 3% to contribute to the Florida state pension plan to replace up to $1 billion contributed by the state. My pay was cut 3% to increase donation to the pension fund statewide that was not my original contracted agreement as a salaried teacher. Scott offered in exchange an increase in educational funding based on a per student formula statewide. Not only did he abrogate the agreement to increase that funding he has steadily cut statewide per student since 2011. This is a typical bait and switch tactic on government spending agreements used by Republican Party operatives for statewide monetary policy. Mayor Curry is now trying to employ the same Rick Scott playbook not only on ICARE community initiatives but on citywide initiatives based on the pension 'crisis' being reformed through policies approved by his plan similar to the tactic Scott used for the state pension fund. 

Curry decries a tax burden on on the city as one obstacle to helping defuse the pension crisis which was admittedly mismanaged by the pension board for using public investment in a volatile market that backfired and helped cause the current crisis. Reaching for a 401K alternative is offering the same formula which helped cause the crisis in the first place which is another matter for discussion outside the discussion here. Let's quickly review the tax structure on the city of Jacksonville as outlined at the city's website which has the third lowest "tax burden" in the country:"

As an added argument to the local tax structure being unduly burdensome to the citizen taxpayer as the lone supporter for upkeep of the community infrastructure without city based businesses contributing one dime here is the current city mill rate compared to the top 10 cities in the state:

In a nutshell this is the current “pro-business” tax structure for city based businesses in Jacksonville proper [Duval county]. The city based business entities enjoys this under-taxed pro-business tax structure that by design allows them to be exempt from committing to a tax investment in the very infrastructure they exploit. This is a typical Republican "pro-business" blueprint for city based businesses to use and exploit the Jacksonville community infrastructure and force the entire burden for its upkeep on the citizen taxpayer. The corporate entities enjoying the 'benefits' outlined above will argue there is community investment through quality high paying jobs for individuals while moving company profits outside not only its host city of Jacksonville but the state of Florida. 

This leads the discussion to the Curry principle of defunding pension levels and replacing pension contributions by the city with 401K retirement plans vulnerable to market volatility as a viable plan while protecting the status quo of the Jacksonville business based tax structure. This puts ICARE community initiatives on the back burner waiting for the right opportunity to use the defunding of city employee pensions for a path to community initiatives at not only their expense but at individual taxpayer expense as well through the continued exemption of a tax investment in the community infrastructure by those business entities that profit from it the most. 

These actions also adds to the conservative Republican meme that somehow any government, whether local, state, or federal has the potential to be intrusive or an obstacle to individual initiative and the business environment as a whole. Somehow the meme is propagated that when a business fails somehow it’s the governments fault but whenever it finds success and flourishes then it is only through individual initiative, hard work and nothing else. In other words the taxpayer provided infrastructure current Jacksonville based businesses do not contribute one dime too, employees that were educated through a taxpayer subsided education system that fill their job positions, and a community that offers volunteer services such as family support groups, church based charities that help the community around the business all had nothing to do with its success. 

There is an argument that life spans are longer and pensions are no longer viable through a modern local government funding structure. This is the SAME exact argument used by the Republican party to defund social security and turn it over to Wall Street entities as a privatized fund. Good efficient, honest government by individuals dedicated to those ends deserve retirement pension funds paid BY THE COMMUNITY. That's the cost of having a viable and prospering community through an investment in the overseers of that local government. Good employees that are dedicated and committed to good local government will be hard to find if there is competition from privatized entities with goals and agenda that are not the same as those of a community as a whole. Earlier in an article from the Florida Times Union a local taxpayer was quoted thusly when told that taxpayer funds will be proposed to replace the pension shortfalls:
 “I’m so angry as a taxpayer,” said Karen Fergusson, a resident of Jacksonville who came to City Hall on Wednesday to hear about the forensic audit. Fergusson was joined by about 60 other people. “I own a home. I pay taxes. Our money is needed in so many other areas.” 
This is a typical response from a taxpayer that absolutely fails to understand that community investment also calls for paying government employees that dedicate themselves to the very community she inhabits that include " many other areas."
This is not a call to ignore the individuals responsible for the current pension crisis. On the contrary they need to be held accountable but not at the expense of city employees. Mayor Curry needs to be called on this by the opposition as these two political initiatives of pension reform

and community initiatives come to ahead. The problem is I see no one willing to do that. I saw some fight in the ICARE powers that be that evening but that is not enough. The overflow attendance that was in attendance watching this kabuki political blackmail theater play out before them should be a warning to Curry that the people’s concerns should not be subjected to political blackmail. I'm just not sure the will is there from the ICARE community to hold Curry and his administration’s feet to the fire in a more aggressive manner that was demonstrated tonight and force a political change that will benefit the community initiatives we all want. For those of you that want to 'keep politics out of this' as an argument are in self denial here. It IS political as that's the process of governing we chose as a republic. I'm willing to take that fight to Curry. I hope others will as well and contribute to this discussion.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

A Slur By Any Other Name Is Still A Slur

I've been following Hillary Rodham's career ever since I first became aware of her in June, 1991 as Arkansas First Lady.  I liked her right away as she presented herself, to me anyway, as a woman of intelligence, strength, and perseverance in the face of adversity as a public figure I've never seen for anyone else before or since.  And that includes the likes of Richard Nixon at the height of his, of his dishonor, LBJ at the height of his disapproval over Vietnam, or Harry Truman when he left office with a 23% approval rating as examples.  She has been the target of a right wing slur machine put into motion from the first moment she stepped foot on the national political scene as the political activist and wife of then Governor Clinton of Arkansas.  

As a latch key kid in the late sixties I watched my mother raise myself and my brother mostly on her own while we had a father that seemed to be so important to the navy in the midst of the Vietnam war he was hardly ever home with unending overseas duty assignments up until he finally retired in the late 1960's.  I was too young to understand as a boy as I watched her endure a patriarchal world in segregated North Caroline where society was constructed on a system of institutionalized racism and sexism.  Yet she still managed to wind her way through societies built in obstacles that favored white males to do a job I still marvel at raising my brother and myself.  As I look back on those years watching her do her work as a mom I can only admire as a son in total awe I developed, over time a feminism, that was almost nearly as radical as any adherent the women's movement could produce at its height of activism in the early 70's. 

One of the pet peeves I developed through this period was the detestation of two names for females of any age, social/class circumstance, or race that would be uttered to describe them in the heat of emotional conflict, debasing humor, or worse, everyday conversation:  'bitch' and 'whore.'  These two labels have always in the past and still do in the present exist in an environment for which there is no male equivalent.  These two labels, if you will, serve only one purpose: to be used as a tool of debasement to identify a behavior that does not meet the expectations of a male. It is especially unnerving for me to hear other women to use those monikers of derision to affirm male expectations of behavior.  As a son of a mother, a husband to my beautiful wife, and the father of a precious and beautiful daughter I am very sensitive to the usage of these terms of debasement.  I flinch with disgust whenever it is wielded on women in my family, circle of friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or strangers I encounter in everyday movement through the general negotiations of public encounters.  My male feminism is one of many driving forces of my liberalism that has laid out boundaries of what I will not tolerate from other individuals as a public citizen, father, school teacher, or the unending circumstances of public encounters.

This brings me back to Secretary Clinton whom I currently support for President of the United States for 2016.  I recently ran across this chart/table of names on Twitter that has been put together tracking  the slurs used to identify her in social media.  The image is visceral as a tool for dehumanization demonstrating contempt for a female who certainly does not know or insists on not recognizing the boundaries for women and their place in a patriarchal world still institutionalized socially, culturally, politically, legally, economically, and especially sexually to favor white males, focused on those particularly inhabiting positions of power and influence.  Note the number of times names that are unprintable in social media have been used in contrast with the others: [click to expand]

There is no doubt she has endured these uncountable instances of public derision for as long as she has asserted herself as a woman of empowerment.  Note also the number of times Sanders supporters have employed names 'to crude to print' as I'm sure had not gone unnoticed by Jane Sanders, Bernie's wife.  I am certain she is aware of the shoulders of sacrifice she stands on that are instrumental and a testament for what she was able to become in allowing her to persevere as a model for women to today to aspire to.   I'm thinking of my 10 year old who follows her and smiles whenever she sees her on TV.  If she manages to become President of the United States I try not to think of the instances that will multiply a million fold above and beyond what the chart above shows.  One can only hope it is a first step toward a plateau where women will one day been seen as a complete equal so much so a thought is not even given to it.  But that day is still far, far, off above and beyond, I"m afraid, even further than the life span of my daughter.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

A Bull In A China Shop

I had a great meeting this morning with a group in my church aptly named: "Playing With Ideas."  On the first of the month the topic is always 'Current Events.'  As one might imagine the focus of conversation centered on the GOP nomination contest and Donald Trump.  What I found interesting was the variation of ideas offered to define his appeal to certain groups based on personal vignettes and local readings of Florida primary results in and around regional counties.  What fascinated me was the different number of reasons people attributed to his appeal to a specific demographic whether it was a localized upper income group or a generalization based on what would constitute a 'low information' voter.

Driving home I realized that the main reason Donald Trump has a large enough appeal to be in contention as a nominee was the fact he was something of a blank slate if you will.  A blank slate one could use to make any justification they wanted for him to be worthy of their support due to fact they hate the status quo and what they current make up of the GOP represents:  an inability to act on the agenda they've had since the Gingrich years in the 1990's.

I keep hearing in various social media and mainstream media outlets a meme that really came home to me on my pensive drive home.  The GOP rank and file voter detests the current make up of the GOP and what it has become and Donald Trump represents that feeling no matter what he says he represents issue wise.  He is the strongman to effect change on a party that has become moribund in intransigence at the expense of compromise to be purist in their beliefs that range from privatization of most government functions to the eradication of what they define as 'entitlements.'  Donald Trump represents someone that will remake that intransigence through tactics that represent authoritarianism and an ability to 'get things done' on sheer will.

Unfortunately for his supporters our system of government not only doesn't work that way, it was designed specifically not to.  Unless his supporters find a way to fundamentally change the way our government works as a representative republic it is not possible for a Donald Trump like political entity   My fear is there are people out there that tire of our system of incremental change through a deliberative process.  Their goal is to change our system of government that favors authoritarianism and the ability to exact change on a dime without thought out deliberation from a representative body.  History is filled with examples of what they want and as usual it never ends well for either the strongman they envision for the people that put them their in the first place.