Monday, October 16, 2017

A Few Discordant Notes

Over a decade ago, when flag burning was the popular form of protest by some groups, a US senator stood up for their right to do this. Didn’t agree with them, but he opposed a flag desecration law, saying the burnings were a constitutionally-protected form of protest.
That senator was Mitch McConnell.
I thought of that Sunday when I attended the 25th anniversary concert of the Lexington Brass Band, who always opens its first concert of the season by playing the National Anthem.  This year they used a lousy new arrangement of that old song, but I and the audience had no problem standing. No one took a knee, but I thought about how much more of a protest was burning the flag, rather than not standing for it. How much we have changed—and not necessarily for the good.
(BTW, there was no flag visible at the Opera House, so most of us faced the conductor with a hand over our heart. While we had been encouraged to sing, few did. It’s bad enough, and hard enough for most people to sing the regular arrangement, let alone a new one we didn’t know. Here’s for making the much more singable “America” our anthem instead.)
And speaking of changes, not for the good...what has happened to the presumption of innocence???
Harvey Weinstein is but the latest (and not the last) to be lashed by this truly UN-democratic change in our national attitude. Yes, a number of women have made serious allegations of reprehensible conduct against him. Yes, he has acknowledged some “bad conduct” but nothing criminal. And our criminal system requires people to be charged with a crime (he hasn’t been) and then convicted (he hasn’t been) before we, the public, visit retribution upon the now CONVICTED person.
That didn’t stop the firm he founded from firing him, nor did it stop the Academy that hands out the Oscars from throwing him off its board.  This may be great PR for those two entities, but it is a blow against the principles of freedom we were taught make America great.
If he’s guilty, and its provable, it will come out. There is no need to rush to judgment, destroying historical rights in the process.
And speaking of a rush to judgment, The NCAA took several years, and an admission by North Carolina that it did, in fact, offer fraudulent courses for 20 years without proper “institutional control.” That usually means severe penalties from the NCAA. Not this time. Why? By some convoluted logic the NCAA held that while...yes, many athletes were allowed, even encouraged to take this easy course, since the general student body was also allowed to take it, this meant there was no special treatment given the jocks!
The NCAA will rue the decision in years to come. Now, colleges are free—yes free free free to favor jocks, just as long as they also favor run-of-the-mill students as well. More NCAA penalties are going to fall, as they will be built on the quicksand of this latest Tar Heel decision.
(If UK is smart, for example, it will make sure some “regular” freshmen students stay in the ornate Joe Craft lodge, as well as all the new “one and done-ers.” The NCAA said the lodge just for jocks was illegal years ago; this new decision seems to allow UK a fighting chance to get its luxurious dorm for jocks reinstated—another perk for Coach Cal to load up his team with “one and done” stars...while the national championship banner stays away from Rupp Arena for another year.)
I'm just sayin'...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Swords Into Plowshares

We have had a lot of damaging weather activity all over our world recently...hurricanes in the Gulf, earthquakes in Mexico, cyclones (that killed many more than all our storms) in SE Asia, mudslides in Europe and China, volcanoes in Indonesia and elsewhere...yet each time the medical and humanitarian relief efforts have to be organized anew; as if these events weren’t going to happen.
But they are, and will continue to happen. Why aren’t we (the human race) better—and more consistently —prepared?
Whatever happened to the SS Hope?  Remember the world’s first, peacetime floating hospital—that went where it was needed, whether the outbreak of some disease, or just aiding people in poor areas, or sailing to where a disaster had occurred?  She was retired in ‘74, and not replaced. Why not?
We know these natural disasters will continue to happen, along with outbreaks of new disasters (Ebola, Zika, etc.) Why isn't the world prepared for them?
We have many ships in mothballs or dry docks that could be SS Hopes...only a lot more, and stationed around the world so no matter where a natural or man-made disaster threatened, they could get there quickly; with experienced disaster staffs, supplies that are needed quickly, and begin setting up the recovery efforts—calling in more aid when needed...all with experienced hands who can quickly evaluate the situation and let the world know what was needed, how much, how soon.
Let the UN or various regional organizations set up such ships, as well as ground forces—trained, and ready from past efforts to move when disaster strikes. Let contracts be made with all nations to co-ordinate these efforts with those of national relief agencies in each country so red tape can be cut ahead of time when the disaster strikes.
Surely the examples of the past few months strongly indicate the need for such an approach; as well as the fact that such pre-existing capabilities would be more efficient than recreating recovery efforts each disaster anew, with a lot of attendant waste.
Surely mankind can see, and establish, these permanent agencies for universal help, and soon.
I'm just sayin'...

Monday, October 2, 2017

DON’T WE EVER LEARN, (part number AK 47)

Once again America is rocked by a tragedy caused by guns...innocent people dying needlessly.
The media must and will ask the NRA for comment, and, I suspect, we will be told again that “guns don’t cause deaths, people cause deaths,” and there is certainly preliminary evidence that another deranged person is responsible.
But this deranged person had 10 rifles with him, according to early reports. 10. All legally bought I’m sure. Probably all the AK-47 types that were once outlawed...until the “sunset provision” of that law expired and our chicken-livered Congress refused to extend it.
Look, folks, it takes, a finger to pull the trigger, and two, a trigger to pull.  It is much easier to legislate guns than to legislate intentions, especially of people with no police record, or incidence of mental health problems. (assuming the state where the mental health problem occurred even passed on that information to the appropriate agencies, which they often don’t.)
So to head off Las Vegas 2 (and Columbine 2, and Virginia Tech 2, and...) we need federal legislation. Bring back the ban on assault weapons, extra large magazines, end the gun show loop hole, improve mental health reporting...and several other practical items we can do, without violating the 2nd amendment—and which must be done now before Las Vegas 2, etc. etc. do they WILL.
Ask Congressman Andy Barr (and those who may run against him) and Senators Paul and McConnell how much longer they will kowtow to the NRA, while country music fans die because of their lack of backbone.  Ask them NOW.
A word or nine about the PBS Series on Viet Nam...(about which more at a later date.) I watched it all, learned some new things, learned the depth of Nixon’s law breaking and treasonous conduct...all the time seeing parallels between ‘Nam and what we continue to do in Afghanistan...our “longest war” (which like ’Nam was never declared by a Congress that failed to live up to its oath to support the Constitution.)
While the series was on, I came across this quote from Stephen Vincent Benet (author of John Brown’s Body and The Devil and Daniel Webster—both worth your reading).
Here it is...(you should have included it, Ken Burns)... "We thought because we had power, we had wisdom.”
I'm just sayin...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Was I Wrong????

Very early on in the Donald Trump Jr. Russian story, a former reporter of mine asked me if there was anything to his meeting with a Russian lady lawyer. I replied “I don’t think so. It seems like normal checking for dirt on the other party.”
Boy, was I wrong.
At that point, she was just a lawyer who happened to be Russian, offering information on possible misdeeds by HRC and the DNC.
But soon it turned out the info she offered allegedly came from “official” Russian government sources. Whoa! It is against the law for foreign governments to meddle in our elections. (Even though the US has officially meddled in many elections in other countries - in at least one case, Chile, causing the death of a democratically elected president.) Thus, Jr. should have informed the FBI of this approach. He did not.  (Even though he said the material she offered was not verified, several election watch dog groups have filed complaints that this amounted to an illegal election contribution. We shall have to watch to see how this turns out.)
BUT, when the news stories began about his meeting that’s when the FIT hit the SHAN.
One, he should have reported it.
Two, when he did, he didn’t tell all...especially as to how many attended. Since some of these turned out to be high ranking officials of the Trump campaign (One later fired for not disclosing HIS Russian connections) suspicions began piling up.
Three, his remarkable release of e-mails not only confirm his possible law violation, but other items which could be illegal, immoral, or fattening.
Four, Jr. then appeared on Fox and in his interview said he had told all, there was nothing more not revealed. 
Others. not previously listed, had attended the meeting, including a former Russian army man who may, or may not have been connected to Soviet intelligence...and at the minimum appears to have violated US rules for lobbying for a foreign government.   
This is EXACTLY what caused Gen. Mattis to be fired from his impending security post, what got Paul Manafort fired as campaign  chairman, what got Atty-Gen. Sessions to recuse himself from the FBI situation, etc. etc. etc.
(BTW, son in law Jared Kushner, who does hold an official government position—as Jr. does not—also “failed to reveal” his many, many Soviet contacts, which was required on his security clearance form and may cause Pres. Trump even more trouble in the end.
If I heard a PBS news report correctly, there have now been over 100 Russian contacts by various Trump administration people that were NOT revealed, contrary to law, until reporters ferreted them out. (So much for the press and its role in trying to keep government honest and the people informed.)
Out in the “heartland” of America this means zilch, if a CBS report is to be believed...Trump supporters are much more concerned about jobs and don’t think Jr.’s (and son-in-law’s) misbehavior amounts to much.)
We shall see.
It is fair to this point in this whole unsavory business, it seems to hold much greater potential for impeachment than at the same time in Whitewater (remember that?) where impeachment was threatened against Pres. Clinton and the Lewinsky affair, where it actually happened. It is also far more serious---the election of a President versus sex among consenting adults or an unproven possible land fraud.
As fabled NYC Mayor LaGuardia once said..”I don’t often make a mistake, but when I do, it’s a beaut!”
I'm just sayin'

Monday, July 10, 2017

Getting Your Vote Counted

While a lot of attention has been focused on reports of Russian (or other) hacking attempts to interfere in our elections, the root cause for such concern should not be the attempts—but what could be wrong with our voting system that encourages such attempts:
A recent study from the Brennan Center for Justice points out two major ways in which hackers could succeed...aging voting machines and voter registration using outdated software. It listed 3 ways in which states can move to keep voting safe.
One, check voter registration systems regularly and upgrade if needed.
Two, replace old electronic voting machines that don’t have a paper trail—which allows independent checks for accuracy.
Three, audit votes. Only half the states do this, and often not well enough to catch ballot errors.
Congress and the states need to spend more money to see that these 3 things are done, done soon, and done sufficiently.
But there’s more...and these ideas were not in the Brennan report.
One..the BIG one..eliminate the Electoral College.  It stands to reason if hackers want to influence a close election, concentrating on one big, but vulnerable state’s voting system offers a much greater chance of success than if we switch to "one person, one vote”—where the winner is determined by the total national vote—and where hackers would have to influence many, many more votes in many states to have a chance for success.
Two...require states to set the district lines for Congressional and legislative seats by independent commissions and NOT by state legislatures. About 20 states do this now, Kentucky needs to join them...and with the next census looming, needs to set up such a commission right away. The Herald-Leader twice showed this approach works by coming up with Congressional districts far more equal  and far less “gerrymandered” than what the legislature did.
If we truly want to stop hackers, and ensure that every vote counts we need to improve our democracy as well as our software.   
I'm just sayin'...

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Few Thoughts About July Fourth

Which we celebrate as the day we declared our independence from England—although the Continental  Congress actually voted that historic approval on July 2nd---the 4th was the date they signed their names to the formal document after it was officially inscribed for the members.
So while we enjoy this most important day for us, let it be noted a lot of our history isn’t accurate and even more Americans aren’t truly familiar with it.
Take “Yankee Doodle”—a song our troops sang as they slowly, thru great hardship, won the Revolution against the greatest army in the world. It was actually a song originated by the Brits, in derision of the Yanks, and as for “macaroni”—as in “stuck a feather in his cap and called it...” that word referred to a gay person in those days, a further insult to the Minutemen.
(all this from a fascinating article in the Sunday NY Times. If you wish to read more, and I hope you will, see “That Diss song known as Yankee Doodle.”
Another Sunday Times article by the well known English actor Stephen Frye argues our usual view of “Mad King George” as a tyrant isn’t right at all. We often overlook that many in the British Parliament supported the “Colonies” or that our famed Bill of Rights came, in large measure, from that body’s Bill of Rights of 1689---a century before our own.
We Americans are often woefully ignorant of our own history, or our friends and neighbors. A Canadian TV special, in 2001, asked Americans a lot of questions that often exposed our ignorance of our Northern neighbor. No, Canadians do not get rid of their elders by putting them to die on ice floes (!!). Nor does Canada have a “national igloo” as a symbol, as one of our presidential candidates indicated. And when some of us were asked whether the US “should be bombing Saskatchewan," we replied  “absolutely”—confusing that Canadian province with---who knows what foreign land.  (But then, in several wars the US has sought to invade Canada, most notably the War of 1812, when many Kentuckians found themselves fighting north of our borders.)   
So on this 4th of July holiday, let me hope my fellow citizens will “highly resolve” to learn a lot more about our world today, for ignorance is not bliss in 2017, and may well lead to wars that are as unnecessary as they are unproductive.
May the “world’s greatest country” truly understand its own history, and share our “blessings of liberty and freedom” with all the peace.
I'm just sayin'...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

In Liberating Strife

Even that non policy wonk, Pres. Trump admits  he didn’t know “health care could be so complicated.”
But it is, except (see later)...for all the double-speak or “political speak” going on.
Prime example...Sen McConnell saying The GOP agrees “on the need to strengthen Medicaid.” He then offered his party’s bill which would do just the opposite. It would eventually end the Medicaid expansion under Pres. Obama, and in years to come most likely force people off the program.
This revelation inspired a Forum column in the Sunday C-J by longtime political reporter Al Cross under the headline “McConnell will cause many to suffer” and a full page ad in that same issue by a Blue Chip list of health care providers---doctors, nurses, social workers, etc..imploring him to “stop the mad rush to pass this bill.” (drafted in secrecy, with no women senators involved.)  They want a chance for ALL of us “to weigh in on this bill so that we might be a part of redesigning a health care system that works for the benefit of all.”  Mitch wants to pass the GOP version before the July 4th recess, which is this week. I don’t think he’ll make it, but as so many others point out “he is a master of the Senate."
Actually there is a far less complicated way to handle health care for ALL Americans; join the rest of the world in declaring health care a “modern right of citizenship," pass a “Single Payer” bill, which is far less complicated and provides decent health care for every citizen. Naturally, conservatives in both parties will cry  “Socialism” but it works in a lot of countries, most of whom are our fellow capitalists.   
The Swiss, a conservative, peaceful nation, have had enough of the climate debate. They know the world IS getting warmer, that 100,000 weather observers all over the globe tell us their observations prove it. So the Swiss have started putting special white blankets on some of their scenic (tourism producing, job producing) glaciers to stop them from melting.
Yes, the world IS getting warmer. There is NO argument here.  Why is another matter?  Maybe fossil fuels, maybe auto exhausts, maybe rampant consumerism, maybe Chinese hacking...but...this is where we should be having our debate...NOT denying climate change is taking place. It is. Now let’s figure out what to do about it.
I'm just sayin'...