Category Archives: All Politics Is Local

No Consideration for Disruption to Lives, Families, Employers, Communities . . .

No consideration was given “to the disruption . . . on the lives of Daca recipients, let alone their families, employers and employees, schools and communities . . . ”

The quote is from a ruling by a federal judge staying Trump’s order to end the DACA program until the courts complete a proper review of the order.

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) permitted the “Dreamers” to remain in this country to study and work. Dreamers are young people brought to the United States as children, who have grown up in this country.

The judge’s ruling highlights the upheaval caused by other sudden orders to deport thousands of people established for years in the United States.

These include certain Nicaraguans and Haitians. These groups were allowed to remain in this country for humanitarian reasons when natural disasters devastated their homelands.

Despite the hardship caused by Trump’s orders to the people involved (as well as the countries they would return to) many who voted for Trump support him.

I understand the broken immigration system this country has had for decades. Assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates overseas, I saw its shortcomings in the lives of the people we met every day in our work.

However, the harming of law abiding, productive members of American communities is a horrible start to immigration reform.

Judges: Just Another Political Game?

“The prospect of more ideological and active conservative judges is not intrinsically bad. The federal courts look stronger for including a range of legal philosophies. The problem is that conservatives are not striving for balance, but conquest.”

      –The Economist, (September 25, 2017), commenting on what it considers the politicizing of judicial nominees.

Federal judges in the United States are appointed by the president for life, subject to the approval of the Senate. The goal is for judges to be impervious to political pressure, judging impartially without worrying about the next election,

Nevertheless, the appointment of federal judges has become more politically motivated than ever in the last few years.

Refusing to approve presidential choices for federal judges in the last year of Obama’s presidency reached record highs. This practice is not new, but the number of times it was done is unprecedented.

President Trump, now enabled to appoint a large number of vacant judgeships, has shown less regard for experienced judges than any recent president. The process has come to resemble the questionable practice of appointing ambassadors for campaign contributions.

Political ambassadors, however, only serve until the next president takes office, not for life.

Since his political party controls the Senate, the issue of partisanship in the appointment of federal judges is theirs to support or to end. If they choose to act for party and not for country, we will suffer the consequences for decades.

Politics and the Spiritual Journey

“The Republican Party’s political sellout to Donald Trump—and the Democrats’ lack of a clear moral alternative many people of faith are excited to support—leave many of us feeling politically homeless.” (Jim Wallis, “Politically Homeless,” Sojo.net, 4 January 2018)

The growth in independent voters who reject any political party is parallel to the growth of the “nones” in religious affiliation.

Sexual misconduct has toppled both political and religious figures. Corruption has touched politicians as well as spiritual leaders.

But power politics tempts the voter and the religious follower as well as their leaders. Especially in a democracy, one is tempted to believe that the election of a political party will bring us the perfect society we desire.

From protection of unborn babies to protection of natural resources, one is tempted to believe that a particular party will make it happen.

Yet individual choices determine a society’s level of compassion and justice and discipline. The care, or lack of, we exhibit toward our families and friends and neighbors influences more than leadership.

Certainly we stand in awe of our democratic institutions. Refusal to carry out our civic privileges is both foolish and irresponsible.

However, the individual spiritual journey each of us makes—and how well we encourage this journey in others—determines the direction of our society.

Our New Science: “Science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

Observers have noted the removal of the term “climate change” from certain government websites. According to reports on CNN (December 8, 2017), even a story about progress made by the Environmental Protection Agency in their use of renewable energy has been scrubbed.

Are we to conclude that the use of renewable energy is some kind of harmful practice?

Apparently, many terms are joining “renewable energy” as forbidden words.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “evidence based” or “science based” are also verboten. (Lena H. Sun, Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, reported in The Seattle Times, December 17, 2017)

Findings of the CDC now aren’t “evidence-based” or “science-based.” Its recommendations are based “on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

Does that mean even if scientific studies point to a certain practice being harmful, they are not going to be reported if they offend a community? Whether something offends “a community” is now going to be our standard?

And which communities will be considered?

If reports citing harm caused by the burning of fossil fuels offend the community of oil and gas companies, are those reports not supposed to be published?

Might we suspect that communities of the biggest political donors will be the ones considered?

How Many Pieces of the Economic Pie Do You Get?

Among rich nations of the world, “The top 1 percent in the U.S. own a much larger share of the country’s wealth than the 1 percent elsewhere.”

Christopher Ingraham quoted that statistic in a Washington Post article. (“Wealth gap widens between rich, everyone else,” reprinted in The Seattle Times, 10 Dec 2017.)

To aid our understanding, Ingraham proposed an illustration: Represent all the citizens of the United States as 100 people, divvying up an economic pie that is cut into 100 equal pieces.

Most Americans do not want a society in which everyone receives exactly the same amount—each receiving one piece of the pie. Most want more rewards going to those who work harder, for example.

Ingraham quoted a survey to find out how people thought such a pie should be divided. The survey asked respondents to divide the population into five groups by descending order of income. Then they divided the 100-piece pie among the five groups according to what they thought was fair.

Results: The wealthiest 20 percent of society would get nearly one-third of the pie; the next group about a fifth of the pie; the third group also would receive about a fifth; the next group would get 13 percent of the pie; the bottom group would get 11 percent.

In other words, “. . . the most productive quintile of society would amass roughly three times the wealth of the least productive.”

In fact, Ingraham writes, the top 20 percent of Americans own 90 percent of the pie, not 33 percent, as suggested by survey respondents as ideal.

The next 20 percent divide eight slices among all their members.

The middle 20 percent split the last two pieces of the pie.

The next group gets no pie.

The last group owes pie—they are pie debtors.

Do our tax policies favor or discourage a fairer division of the pie?

Taxes: It’s Complicated

My economic training is limited to one basic economics course I took in college. I think it was part of the core curriculum, like Algebra I and World Lit.

I, like many Americans, struggle to understand our economic system. How do we collect the taxes we need for supporting our military, and protecting us from harmful drugs, and running air traffic control systems, and guarding cyber security and social security, and a thousand other programs needed by a developed society?

I turn to studies and articles by economists who’ve studied our taxing systems. A number express concern, even alarm, at the steadily widening differences between the income of a wealthy few and everyone else. (Thomas Piketty, Wealth in the Twenty-First Century, among others.)

Tax plans now before Congress call for tax cuts. But, according to a former official of the Reagan administration: “There’s no evidence that a tax cut now would spur growth.” (Bruce Bartlett, “Reagan Adviser: Tax cuts, set the stage for an all-out attack on welfare state,” The Washington Post, 19 November 2017).

Other economists, such as Paul Krugman, agree. They warn against the tremendous deficits the currently proposed plans would cause.

Bartlett questions why those politicians so concerned in the past about deficits now seem unconcerned with prospects of massive deficits. Those deficits seem likely if one of the current plans passes, calling for cuts to many taxes paid by the wealthy.

Exactly because of those deficits, Bartlett says, the plan will create “a deficit so large, something must be done about it.” With deficits growing, politicians then can insist on cuts to the government programs they despise, including Social Security and Medicare.

It’s a back door way to eliminate programs popular with the American people. The wealthy, of course, don’t need those programs.

Convinced Against Our Will

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

–old saying, used by Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

The newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts explored a few fake news items of the recent past (“Truth, sadly, is not something we all value,” The Seattle Times, Oct 8, 2017).

One fake story led to a shooting in an innocent pizza parlor by an individual who believed ridiculous stories about the business, repeated on propaganda sites.

The fact that Barrack Obama has a legal birth certificate from Hawaii or that his birth was reported in a verifiable news item does not stop birther stories that he wasn’t born in the United States.

Pitts lists reputable groups (newspapers, schools of journalism, fact checking sites) all attempting to bring discernment to our decisions on what we read and believe.

He’s a pessimist, pointing to research suggesting that people tend to “double down on the false belief” when facts prove them wrong.

Our worth seems tied to what we believe. We find it difficult to think that we can be imperfect, that we can be duped. We seek, not truth, but validation of our perfection.

We are in need of listeners. We need to listen, not just to what our neighbors say they believe, waiting impatiently to argue our side. We need to understand why our neighbors believe as they do, to be touched by the needs they express. If we understand each other, we may be able to move closer to finding truth.

Removing “Servant” from Public Servant

“ . . . the federal workforce has the same number of employees in 2017 as it did during the Kennedy administration, despite the creation of the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and various agencies, as well as a roughly 40 percent increase in the total U.S. population during that interval.

“And yet one popular narrative is that the federal workforce has become too large, and must be pruned. But the work still has to be done by someone.” (Paul Verkuil, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, quoted by David Thornton, Federal News Radio, October 20, 2017, “Federal Workforce in Jeopardy”)

The work that must be done, Thornton goes on to say, is often picked up by contractors. Verkuil points out two differences between government workers and contractors:

“‘For me, the first reason is the oath of office. You may not think about it, it may be just a symbolic act, but … it means something,’ he said. ‘It differentiates you, it separates you. It should; you took an oath to uphold the constitution. It’s meaningful. … If you don’t take the oath, you’re not in the same club, if you will. It’s an important club.’

“And that speaks to another difference Verkuil pointed out: motivation. Federal workers overwhelmingly point to the mission of public service as one of their primary motivations for what they do. Contractors don’t.”

After swearing the oath to protect the Constitution and defend my country when I joined the U.S. Foreign Service, I was assigned to a U.S. consulate in the Middle East. Contractors came in for a few weeks to set up a new computer system. As far as I know, the contractors did a good job, and certainly fulfilled a vital need for expertise not available at our post.

They left at five o’clock in the afternoon. I stayed to finish my work, which seldom could be done in an eight-hour day. I was available for any American citizen who suddenly ended up in a foreign jail. If danger threatened from terrorism, I came in no matter the hour and sent off a warning to our American wardens to pass to all American citizens in the district for which we had records.

The contractors, as skilled they may have been, were there for the money. For them and their companies, it was the bottom line. I and the other officers had been assigned there to serve.

War on Coal; War on the Planet

Until I moved to the Pacific Northwest, most of the salmon I ate came from cans. I was not fond of it. Then one day I ate fresh salmon and became a salmon lover. An added plus is salmon’s contribution to a healthy diet, one of those foods you can enjoy that is good for you.

Salmon fishing also provides jobs. One of the greatest habitats for wild salmon is Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. Salmon harvesting provides jobs for 14,000 Alaskans, according to Timothy Egan, columnist for The New York Times. It’s a clean and sustainable industry.

However, the Trump administration has recently reversed protection for the bay, favoring a mining conglomerate’s proposed plan to mine copper and gold there. Previous findings indicated the mine could send tons of toxic waste into the bay, harming the salmon habitat.

Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, met with leaders of the mining company before the reversal of protection,

In addition, Pruitt has termed President Trump’s intention to end the regulations curbing greenhouse gas emissions as the end of the “war on coal.”

Some thought of those regulations as the war on polluted air.

Egan refers to Trump’s reversal of many formal environmental protections as “the war on the planet.”

Business and Politics: A Match Made in Hell?

We have sometimes elected business people to legislative bodies, but not generally to the U.S. presidency. For that job, we have tended to go for politicians already holding elective office at the state or U.S. congressional level or else military leaders.

Donald Trump is the first president I can think of, at least since the twentieth century, of one elected to the office directly from a business career. Some of his supporters reasoned that a business person practices efficiency in order to make profit. Thus, Trump could drain the inefficient swamps of the U.S. government.

The problem is that a business leader is more like a dictator. Business experience does not necessarily prepare a person for heading a representative government.

As he took office, Trump appeared to think that members of the U.S. congress were his board of directors, beholden to him to carry out his wishes. In fact, they are not beholden to him; they owe their jobs to the people back home who elect them.

As a business leader, Trump could fire any underling who disagreed with him, free to make absolute loyalty to him a primary requirement. This appears to be his style as president.

Like the French king, Louis XIV, he has assumed the role of Sun King. He takes criticism personally, spewing unverifiable insults on anyone, even a supporter, who dares intimate that he isn’t the greatest president who ever held office.

Sad.

Vote When You’re Not Angry

During my childhood, my parents volunteered to man our neighborhood voting station during elections. It was located in the multipurpose room of the elementary school I attended.

My parents did what election workers did and still do all over the country. They verified voters as they entered. They recorded names of each participant. They also visited with friends and neighbors and caught up with their lives. It resembled a neighborhood block party.

They were not allowed, of course, to influence a person’s vote in any way. I don’t remember if our small neighborhood precinct had watchers from political parties, but I don’t think any allegation of voter fraud ever touched our district.

Perhaps my parents’ involvement in the voting process is one reason I have, as far as I can remember, voted in every election of my adult life for which I was eligible. That includes a fair number of absentee votes when I was out of the country.

I’m always amazed at the number of eligible voters—sometimes more than half—who fail to darken the doors of their voting halls for an election. Or, as in my current voting district, fail to cast their ballots by mail.

Some people vote only when they are angry. They might vote more intelligently if they voted when they weren’t so angry, examining issues with a clearer mind.

A government run for the people isn’t a given. What we don’t use, we may lose.

The politicians voted in by a minority may  pass laws only for a few powerful interests, since the majority don’t seem to care about what their government is doing.

Of course, having lived in countries without elections and citizen participation, I’m less likely to take voting for granted.

Why the Healthy Should Buy Health Insurance

I’m the daughter and sister of insurance agents. I understand that an insurance program is an agreement to provide buyers of insurance with funds to overcome some kind of misfortune. Examples include automobile accidents, house fires, and illnesses, to name a few.

For the insurance provider not to go broke, payments into the insurance program must be enough to accumulate funds needed to pay out for the misfortunes.

A provider of automobile accident insurance would soon go broke if the provider allowed people to begin the insurance after having an accident. Likewise, so would a company providing house insurance if people were allowed to begin fire insurance after having a fire and expecting to receive funds.

In a sense, insurance programs are community programs. Some are profit driven. Others, like social security for the elderly, are not. Even with social security, however, workers are required pay into social security whether they know they will live to old age or not.

Popular sections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) include the provisions covering preexisting conditions and those guaranteeing people’s continued coverage even if they get sick.

Highly unpopular, however, is the mandate that all must purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.

Unfortunately, adopting a plan with the first two requirements is most likely impossible unless all people are required to have a policy or pay a penalty. Health insurance, no more than car or house insurance, needs regular payments over a long period of time to balance the outgoing.

Otherwise, it becomes too expensive. The cost of caring for sick people is too expensive unless a large group of people pay for coverage.

Of course, people with health insurance are more likely to enjoy good health than people without it.

If their insurance covers doctor visits, they are more likely to have regular checkups. They are more likely to visit a doctor when they first have symptoms of an illness rather than later when the illness may require longer and more expensive treatment.

The term”health” insurance is instructive. The primary goal is better health, rather than paying to correct ill health. It’s also less expensive in the long run.