Saturday, April 28, 2018

Jumping to conclusions in Toronto

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News April 30-May 1,2, 2018

On  April 23, a 25  year old Canadian drove his van on the sidewalk for blocks in Toronto, killing  ten and injuring many more .Immediately people around the western world jumped to conclusions that this was another act of Islamic terrorism and the perpetrator had to be “one of those”.   However, days after Toronto, Canadian officials have not yet found a motive or discovered an Islamist connection, but they have found evidence in social media that the van driver identified with cultist movements that hated women and had a troubled past.

There seems to be a  knee jerk reaction to acts of mass killings to blame Islamic terrorists in all instances until proved otherwise by law enforcement officials.  That is easily assumed when the techniques used by none jihadists are the same used by those inspired and directed by radical clerics abroad. Non Islamic mass killers have taken a page from handbook of Islamic terrorists and used the same  techniques to kill many, from bomb making to using vehicles.

Like the Toronto attack, we have  witnessed some horrendous acts inspired by radical terrorists from abroad:   plowing a rental van into crowds of innocents , whether on the banks of London’s Parliament and lower Manhattan, or in a Christmas market in Berlin and  a crowd celebrating a national holiday in France, among others.

It is little comfort to many that most acts of terror and mass killings  in the United States have been perpetrated by those with domestic connections and non Islamist related motives.
In the US, most mass shootings have been conducted with assault type weapons geared to kill many quickly , easy to use without much skill,  and cheaply accessible. Gun rights proponents point to lack of mental health treatment as the cause. Gun control advocates want to ban assault rifles. Islamicphobia has swept the political right wing, demanding Muslim immigration bans.  Better mental health services and banning assault weapons have merit and are not by themselves the solution, but would certainly reduce the carnage. Religion based immigration bans are unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court is now deciding whether the greatly modified Trump administration  immigration bans are still unconstitutional.

Even with all of these steps, terrorism and mass killings will not be completely wiped out because other forces are at work. One of the worst cases of US domestic terrorism was committed by the Oklahoma City bombers who  destroyed a federal building, killing 168 people. They seeking revenge against federal government’s handling of Waco and Ruby Ridge.
So what is causing this wave of terrorist like attacks by both wannabe Jihadists, by some on the far out political right, or by some that seem just to be unhinged? One element is demographics.  White young males and Islamic motivated terrorists have something in common. They are mostly males of about the same age.

Citing evidence of  the past ten years of terrorist and mass shooters in the US , Business Insider found that these mass killers had some characteristics in common: “Men between 20 and 30 years old are overwhelmingly more likely to commit mass shootings, attacks, and acts of terrorism than any other gender or age group in the US, the evidence suggests. Psychiatrists and social scientists believe the trend can be explained by a mix of factors, including a lack of neurological development, the need for belonging, and an evolving trend of past attacks that make future ones seem less horrific to perpetrators, and perhaps even noble. “

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Why i MAGA works

The Democratic Party right now is running on one brand of fuel.  Anti Trump. It cannot continue this way. It may result in wins in 2018, but  what about 2020? There is no star power yet emerging in the Democratic Party and former Vice President Joe Biden is still showing up at the top of the polls.  There may be a good reason for that. He may be a “safe” candidate in the eyes of voters who made the difference in 2016.
A  study just  published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  took a close look using approved scientific methodology at those who had voted for Mitt Romney, Barack Obama earlier and then voted for Donald Trump in 2016 instead of Hillary Clinton. It found “ that change in financial well being had little impact on candidate preference. Instead, changing preferences were related to changes in the party’s positions on issues related to American global dominance and the rise of a majority–minority America: issues that threaten white Americans’ sense of dominant group status.”  That dominant group was white, Christian, and heavily men who saw that they were to become the minority by 2046. What changed their vote had little to do with kitchen table, pocketbook issues, but it was their concern that they as a racial and cultural group were losing power.

Those findings of the  study sound plausible because they explain much about what has been a puzzle.  Why did “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) as a slogan resonate as it did and still does? I remember one attempt by a late night TV host  asking Trump supporters waiting to get into a Trump rally, “ back to which date or era would you like to return again ? “ They could only mumble some sort of an unspecific answer.  It was not economic disadvantage, either. Most primary voters for Trump were affluent Republicans and their education level was average for Republicans. Most Trump voters in 2016 were not blue collar working class.

What has always left me wondering  is why the pocket book kitchen table economic issues Donald Trump’s administration enacted , but   had promised, hurt the pocket books of the very middle class for which he claims to speak. He was trying to make health care and college tuition  more expensive and he signed a deficit busting tax bill that obviously benefited the already rich and corporations with so little impact on the amount take home pay or was felt by less than 50% of working people.   He waffles and backtracks on raising tariffs or supporting trade policies that hurt the Midwest farm belt, yet at the same time, his poll number are rising a few points. He seems to be given a pass on failing, and points for trying and for channelling their cultural anger. However his anti immigrant policies toward people of color or  of a different religion had nearly guttural approval, laced with exaggerated venom and fear mongering. Trump even calling some Nazi demonstrators “fine people” did not bother his core supporters. The bogey men raised to strike fear in the hearts of misogynist Trump supporters are women, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. His immoral  personal behavior has only energized Evangelical Christians since he has supported their political action agenda. His coddling up to Russian election interference has had no impact on poll numbers. After all, Russians were on their side in 2016. What that means now is that traditional Democratic economic pocket book issues are less important planks in a campaign platform than is the cultural, racial, or gender of the candidate they choose in 2020. Factors that could turn this theory upside down are an extremely damning Mueller report or an abrupt economic downturn.
_______________________________________________________________________Trujmp has lied tie and time again about how he has made America respected in the world again. That one is a whopper ...Factcheck,orge ctied a couple of polls showing of 37 countries surveyed 35 showed a drop in respect under Trump and the most dramatic drop was in countries that we count as our closest allies. We have lost the world's respect...making America weaker again.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The impact of Jim Comey's book and interviews: not much

The quote that will probably linger after this will be Comey's belief he stated that Trump was morally unfit to be president. It probably will have no impact on those who support him because after the Access Hollywood tapes that had little impact on his poll numbers , even the Steele Dossier's salacious and unproved accounts of a night in Moscow and fact checkers blowing whistles on factual lies ,he still was elected. His supporters put other issues above his character profile.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

We struck Syria; what next?

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News April 17, 18, 2018

The attack by the US, the UK and France on Syrian  chemical weapons facilities April 13, 2018 was a success for what it was. Execution of the mission worked as planned.  The US, UK and France made their point with the strike that most of the world does not approve of the use of chemical weapons and  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons again would get a similar response. The well planned and executed strike avoided civilian, Russian or Iranian casualties and  spread of the conflict from becoming hotter and wider. So what now?

The  ability to shape matters in Syria  to benefit US interests is even more  dismal than it ever has been and no one in the US seems to have a plan or a  goal farther reaching than just punishing the use of chemical weapons. Pundits and politicians  of the April 13 attacks on both sides of the aisle laud the reason, success and limited nature of the attacks, but grouse that the Trump administration has no long term strategy or goals. They complain  he should have run his attack plans by Congress first and he should get a new authorization to use force instead of relying on the post 9 11 one that broadly provided authorizations that did not envision the Syrian civil war.

To say Donald Trump had no policy or plan is not true. He had laid it out in campaign rhetoric and tweets.Some of his plans and policies were  suddenly reversed in the past two weeks and dumped in the trash bucket with no discernable replacements in sight . He had read public sentiment right that was a continuation of public reluctance dating back to the Obama era to get involved in the Syrian civil war .He took that a step farther recently and  proclaimed Assad had won the civil war.. Humanitarian concerns or violations of human rights were not to drive any US policies. In addition, he slammed the doors on accepting many refugees to the US. He turned over the conduct of the civil war in the western half of Syria over to the Russians and let the US and Kurds take the east to drive out ISIS from the territory they had conquered earlier. None of those policies and goals have changed.

What did change was significant.  By this early April , Trump’s devotion to  isolationism and avoiding multilateral action , a withdrawal of troops from the area he promised his voters  two weeks earlier , have been abruptly reversed. He brought the UK and France into the strike and sought and got United Nations disapproval of the use of chemical weapons.

The political left wing of the Democratic party's plan is to complain the Republicans have no plan.  Some on the left decry use of any force under any circumstance. One cannot bomb their way into peace, they argue,  though there are instances in history where it has. What is the alternative to military strikes? Democrats offer no constructive way to end the humanitarian disasters of victims of chemical warfare or refugee problems. To preserve credibility and moral superiority, the left needs to focus on the victims and a solution to the problem by diplomacy, no fly zones, protecting our allies, the Kurds,  prosecution of human rights violations, a civilian based strategy to keep terrorist groups like ISIS from retaking the liberated towns if our military presence leaves, and negotiations that may include breaking off parts of Syria. _____________________________________________________________________________

Thursday, April 12, 2018

We were warned. What our founders feared is happening

A condensed and update version of this can be found in a later blog to be posted in late May or June:  Trump and the GOP congress are what Madison warned us about
From the Federalist papers:

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

What we are witnessing now is the very thing  founding father Madison warned our new country about.  The separation of powers to protect us from tyrants is being corrupted now.
The writers of our constitution tried to establish a form of government that would make it difficult for a tyrant to take control of our country. They divided  the power centers of government into three, executive, legislative, and judicial, each with a check on the other. Madison knew there was a way to undermine their checks and balances. What was not yet on the horizon when he wrote this were political parties, but he described them above as “accumulation of all powers in ...the same hands”, " of many or a few." The "few" today is one party in control of all three branches of government with members unwilling to exercise their Constitutional power to check actions of one another.

There are various ways to define a tyrant using 20th and 21st century terms . Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, called a form of it fascism in her recent book and op ed pieces.  She identifies a movement on many countries to embrace fascism. She sees President Trump as admiring them, aspiring, and instinctively using similar techniques to gain and to consolidate power, from attacking opposition media, promoting racial and ethnic scapegoats, and demanding a judiciary and law enforcers loyal to him instead of to the rule of law. Former FBI James Comey's bitter book that fires back at the President for firing him, compares Trump to a mob boss he once prosecuted, complete with using loyalty oaths.

Paul Ryan is  leaving Congress.  He is the leader of  the House, one of the legislative branches, the House of Representatives. His leaving  demonstrates if anything is that a legislative check on a president who is a wannabe "strong leader" demanding personal loyalty to him instead of the rule of law has not happened . That the  only party in control of both Houses of Congress and the White House, and working to control the judicial branch, is one, the Republican Party. The GOP is now the Trump party, with adherents willing to excuse any of the President's shortcomings so long as he supports their agenda. Polls show 80% of Republican voters approve of him, unshaken by any reports of immoral behavior in his private life or questionable character traits, or they agree the Mueller probe is just a witch hunt in spite of indictments to date and before a tight lipped Mueller releases his reports of his findings.

Respect of the rule of law is jeopardized. GOP House members believe that law enforcement, the FBI, Justice or the Mueller special counsel, should be staffed by only those loyal to the president to be credible, and that party affiliation of FBI or the Department of Justice leaders and key staff (all Republicans) is not enough. They demand the Department of Justice investigate investigators investigating Trump. Recently they forced the Department of Justice to turn over fired FBI Director James Comey's notes of his meeting with Donald Trump, key to an obstruction of justice case. That is an unprecedented interference by Congress to out evidence of an on-going criminal investigation.

The Senate is a profile in cowardice, like House members afraid of being primaried for being disloyal to the President. With few exceptions, voices raised against Trump by GOP Senators are those who are not standing for election soon or ever. The Senate is currently engaged in fast track approving appointments to the federal judiciary loyal to the president. The suspicion is they are so far refusing to pass legislation to protect  Special Counsel Mueller from the president firing him because they do not want their names to go on record. Their rationale, Trump would veto their bills anyway and they could not imagine Trump would fire Mueller or his boss Rod Rosenstein. Oh really?

There are two other checks to prevent  a breakdown of our form of government. Voters have a chance to do that in November 2018 electing others to Congress.

The other check is a free press with a wide varieties of opinions and presenting facts as they discover and present evidence of  them. Trump's bias in favor of Fox News, Breitbart, and Sinclair Media , who often convey his message and support him, is hardly a secret. Trump calls reports that paint him in a bad light as "fake news" from "failing" media. Mueller’s investigation will be issuing a report on the Trump campaign’s coordination with the Russians in the 2016 race, followed by reports on financial crimes. Trump is acting like he fears the report will hurt him and has been vigorously attacking the credibility of the Russian connection DOJ investigators and threatening he will fire them. It appears Trump is taking  preemptive measures to destroy the credibility of the FBI as a "deep state" full of partisans against him so that supporters do not take Mueller’s findings as fact. Recently, he tried to punish the owner of the “opposition press”, the Washington Post, by attacking the other business the paper owner has, Amazon , using easily disproved lies.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

How tyrants happen; some personal experiences revisited

1958-1959 I was spending my university junior year abroad in  Berlin. It was a heady time for a US political science major wondering what did  happen and why what was happening now was going so wrong and so right simultaneously. It was a bit over  twelve years after World WW II ended. I walked through the rubble and desolate stretches of bombed out empty spaces on both sides of the Brandenburg Gates. The Wall had not yet been built. It was a hands on view as one form of fascism lay in ruins and the Soviets consolidated control of their conquered eastern sector.  Fascism was fresh in the memories of my fellow students who had survived Hitler’s regime and my roommate in my British sector governed dormitory was from the now Soviet controlled sector. I met a young medical student from Yugoslavia, then a communist country headed by dictator Tito. We later married and we were together for over the next 50 years until he passed away. He became a US citizen, active in civic affairs, with certificates and plaques hanging on our walls to attest how much he loved life in America, democracy, and the freedom to pursue his dreams.

At my age now there are  few left who have institutional memories of three forms of government and their impact on people's’ lives. It is easy to read history books, but it is  also easy to miss the lessons we could learn from them. Human nature being what it is, there are innate tendencies to steer us directions that repeats unanticipated misery.

This is what I have learned:  When people are fearful, confused by chaos out of their control, feel victimized or losing  economic and political power they once had, communism and fascism find fertile ground. There is a human streak  longing to be part of the ruling group (some call that tribalism or racism) and to find blame and to put down the offenders. Demagogues play on fears of loss of power and a sense of victimization.  At the same time, those feeling wronged look for a leader to lead them from the wilderness. What both communism and fascism leadership had in common is that they played that “strong man “ role. One buried capitalism; Hitler and Mussolini harnessed  private sector business. These totalitarian dictators seized the reins of governmental power, Hitler and Mussolini by democratic means, Stalin by taking over a revolution. They then began consolidating power step by step, often under the public' radar or with majority's tacit or enthusiastic approval. The fascists gained control of media by destroying opposition by violence or  by manipulating governmental processes and destroyed the rule of law to their benefit. They eliminated whomever got in their way or were “others” in gulags, firing squads, assassinations, concentration camps, and ovens. They demanded total loyalty to them personally instead of to the rule of law from citizens and those in government, including judges and once freely elected governing bodies. Theirs were the only truth and facts; any realities to the contrary were buried. Their regimes and their citizens ended in figurative and physical rubble.

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that  reviewed the current tendency throughout the world to revert to autocratic leaders and to manipulate the destruction of  democratic institutions to consolidate their power. She saw that same tendency in the US in the instinctive modus operandi of Donald Trump who disdains the rule of law, finds "others" to scapegoat, sees critical media as fake or enemies of the people (sic. himself), and dog whistles to the racists. Albright is no left winger given to extreme speech. She has the gravitas of hands on experience from WWII to now. The question posed by her opinion piece headline was “Will we stop Trump before it is too late”.  The word she used describing what she fears starts is Fascism .


Her book launched at the same time, Fascism: A Warning
in which she lays out in detail why she sees those tendencies in President Trump. It is not only calling it as she sees it rising in may parts of the world, she connected the word Fascism to Donald Trump, making use of that word in public discourse to describe his modus operandi more historically fact based than just inflammatory. She does not leave it at that and issues a call for action as well.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Hold onto your seats, Colorado. Our teacher pay is 46th

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News April 23-25, 2018

On April 16, Englewood District schools were closed as teachers walked out in protest of school funding levels.Jeffco teachers will do likewise April 24 as will Arizona teachers statewide.Teachers are threatening a walkout in Pueblo as well. Teachers have been walking out in  Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and demonstrating in other states recently  in protest of their low pay. Hold on to your seats, Colorado. Our teacher pay is ranked 46th in the nation. We are ranked 50th in the nation in terms of teacher pay compared to cost of living.There is a teacher shortage in Colorado with 3000 unfilled vacancies . Low pay  is the reason. Rural areas are the most hard hit.

In the meantime, some GOP senators in the Colorado legislature want to stop these walkouts and penalize teachers for doing so. They have introduced a bill to that effect. Perhaps their time would be better spent in increasing teachers' salaries so that they are not 50th in the nation when they consider the cost of living.

From the Sky Hi News April 18, 2018 on the ballot in November," Initiative No. 93, seeks to increase school funding across the state through the implementation of a new taxing regimen for Colorado citizens and businesses. According to East Grand School District Superintendent Frank Reeves, if the ballot measure is approved, East Grand would receive an additional $2.3 million in operational revenue per year.".." From 2009 to 2013, the district eliminated 40 positions from its workforce.... "  
Does this underfunding our teachers impact our kids’ education? By one measure, ACT scores, the educational achievement of our pre- college students is in decline and we are below the national average in composite scores.  We should be above the national average, not below it. Our adults’ educational level ranking is 7th in the nation and our per capita income ranked 13th, both often factors affecting the degree of student achievement scores.  These should ring alarm bells for those smitten with reports that recent test scores have improved. The new tests used by the state to evaluate teachers and student achievement are showing improvements while masking a general decline in the  quality of education our kids are getting in Colorado.
It is difficult to measure historical differences in test scores because the standard and measures  keep changing. But trying to compare scores with past years is like comparing old apples with new oranges.  One measure that shows more consistency with fewer fundamental changes in method is ACT scores which indicates  career and college readiness. ACT scores in Colorado have declined steadily between 2009 per 2016 . The greatest declines have been in reading,  math, and English . Only science scores have improved.
What accounts for Colorado’s low pay scale for teachers?  One of the most consistent arguments against teachers’ unions has been that the teachers are experienced but mired in old techniques and incompetent teachers cannot get fired. In reaction to that came the charter school movement, a union busting one, since charter school teachers are not unionized and incompetent teachers should be easier to fire in theory. There has been a steady increase in tax payer  funded charter schools, answerable to their board of directors, with less review and accountability from the local districts than are public schools.The number of publicly funded charter schools has increased from 50 in 1993, to 226 in 2016.

Charter schools pay $15,000 per year less than public schools for their teachers and those they hire are usually with less experience.  The more skilled teachers, with higher ranked evaluations seek employment in public schools as a career advancement and for economic survival.  The average public charter school teacher earns $39,052 per year; the average public school teacher in Colorado earns $54,455 per year . Per capita income in Colorado averages  just above $53,000. The hiring of less experienced teachers in public schools has also become a practice fueled by pinched budgets

The publicly funded charter school  movement has experienced great popularity with parents who have found that the “one size fits all students” of public education does not suit their child, Some school boards like it, too, for more than economic reasons.  Low income students in charter schools have higher test scores than those in public schools. However, charter schools also serve fewer kids with disabilities, which may account for part of higher test score comparisons with public schools. The rate  of firing ineffective teachers has not changed, either. The teacher shortage  could account for this.

Full disclosure: I have a daughter who is a teacher in a Colorado public school and she has taught in her 15 year career in public, charter, and parochial schools.  I have had children and grand children as students in all of those, plus private and elite boarding schools.  All have their value, but the most valuable of all for the most people are public schools.

Teachers are walking out in Colorado, too.


CPI) of $53,504.Mar 22, 2018


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Heads up Colorado: Tradewars with China hurt Trumpland the most

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News April 11, 2018

Update May 2018: China has not waited for tariffs to rise; they just stopped buying US soy beans. China is the largest market for US soy beans...not any more.
  • China canceled a net 62,690 metric tons of U.S. soybean purchases in the two weeks ended April 19, the Bloomberg article pointed out, citing USDA data for the current marketing year.
  • The country is the second largest market for U.S. agricultural exports, and soybeans have historically have been one of the top products sold to the Asian giant, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service."

Northeastern Colorado is like Nebraska,  from Ft. Morgan through Hillrose (my father’s birthplace) past Sterling  to the Nebraska line. The last crop my grandfather raised was soybeans.  In fact, Colorado State University has recently promoted more soybean planting because of its potential as a biofuel.  Beef in Colorado is a $3.7 billion per year industry. I live in Colorado’s cattle and hay raising country. China had just lifted bans on US beef imports, but now they have just raised tariffs on  US beef as well.

A couple of weeks ago family members and I took a 2400 mile  round trip drive from Denver to Iowa’s southeastern border with the Mississippi , mostly following !-76 and I 80, for a memorial service for a family member. It had been over twenty years since I had traveled across far northeastern Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa, the roots of both sides of my parents’ and my  grandparents’ families. When I last made that trek I remember passing one corn field after another. This year for every two cornfields I saw was one field planted in soybeans. Towering above the landscape were new looking ethanol processing plants. Farm houses looked well maintained and the heartland looked prosperous. However,  Donald Trump’s trade policy has just resulted in China retaliating by raising tariffs on US imports from our agricultural heartland.

The Chinese are no dumb bunnies.  China is also the largest market for US soybean exports.They know GOP political leaders in Congress come from soybean, corn and hog land and they targeted their trade retaliation to hurt them the most. Several  Colorado GOP members of Congress represent agricultural producing districts, as well. When President Trump announced his war on China’s steel imports to make good on a promise to the rust belt, I wondered if China would retaliate against the agriculture sector .They did.
The Chinese announced  their retaliation and raised their tariffs on soybeans, beef, and pork.   I recall listening to the radio in my early years in traveling across the heartland that livestock and grain prices and their  future markets were reported early in the morning which would determine what farmers would plant or what and when take to market.    The agricultural futures market and the DOW crashed because of the Chinese retaliation to Donald Trump’s trade policies. The DOW recovered some when China seemed to back down on threats to raise tariffs on the import of US cars, but so far that would help the rust belt but does nothing for the heartland. At this time the tariff raising wars are at the threat stage but it looks like agriculture will still be left in the dust.

But wait, you say, those farmers can still make money on raising corn and soybeans for biofuels. Do not count on the Trump administration itself to care about soybean farmers’ biofuel agriculture. Last week Scott Pruitt,  who heads the Environmental Protection Agency, announced a roll back of clean car engine standards.The auto industry that has relied on biofuel mixed with gasoline to reduce emissions. Pruitt is the administration's’ chief fossil fuel supporter . He hails from Oklahoma and is beset by scandal for his closeness to oil lobbyists.  Ron Zinke, secretary of the Interior, a former congressman with campaigns funded heavily by the fossil fuel industry , is the same who opened up much of Utah’s Bears Ears for oil and gas exploitation. The fossil fuel industry has always resented biofuels that cut into their sales of oil and gas.

 One of the pillars of Trump’s support is a thriving economy, but this could be weakened  in both the heartland and by rising food prices to consumers everywhere thanks to the trade wars just launched by the President. As this is being written, Trump is ignoring howls from the heartland and threatening China with even more tariffs.