The State of the Union

This evening will be President Obama’s last State of the Union address.

The media has been full of summations, speculation, and punditry about the last seven years and the one remaining in the Obama presidency.

There have been major economic improvements. The unemployment rate is about half what it was. The US auto industry is doing well after almost going under in the financial crisis. The budget deficit is much lower than it was under the Bush administration.

Many more people have access to affordable health care insurance. The country is generating less pollution and more renewable energy.

There have been gains for diplomacy, such as the Iran nuclear deal and the recent international climate agreement in Paris.

These and other achievements will be remembered and studied by future students of history.

The tragedy is that so much more could have been accomplished if Congressional Republicans had decided to cooperate in governing rather than obstruct it.

There could have been needed tax reform, immigration reform, and criminal justice/sentencing reform.

There could have been mandated background checks for all gun purchases to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, traffickers, and people intent on harming themselves or others, a measure that has overwhelming public support.

If the Congress would vote on the president’s nominations, there would have been a surgeon general in place during the ebola scare, a full complement of judges in the federal courts to deal with the backlog of cases, an ambassador to Russia during the Ukraine crisis, and a current ambassador to Mexico to work on the extradition of El Chapo to stand trial in the US.

The military prison at Guantanamo would have been closed.

There would have been greater progress on updating our crumbling infrastructure.

So much lost opportunity.

I hope that, as the United States progresses through this election year, we pledge to vote for elected officials who are dedicated to serve the common good, to “promote the general welfare”as it is termed in our Constitution.
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on the radio

This morning, I heard the first part of President Obama’s speech on gun violence and action against it. Near the beginning, he listed the major mass shootings that had happened during his presidency so far.

One of the sad realities of living in the United States is that there is a long list of mass shootings, so many that only certain of them are synonymous with the place in which they occurred.  Aurora, Fort Hood, and Newtown are among these during the Obama presidency.

But this morning, the President listed all the high-toll mass shootings. (In 2015 alone, there were over 350 mass shootings in the United Sates, using the definition of mass shooting as one with four or more victims, so the president was listing only those with the highest number of victims.)

Although the list was not chronological, one of the first cities he mentioned was Binghamton. (Binghamton is in New York State, near the Pennsylvania border about halfway across the state. The town where I have lived for over twenty-five years borders Binghamton.)

While I am grateful that Binghamton hasn’t been reduced to being shorthand for mass murder, I am sad that the shooting at the American Civic Association and its aftermath have been largely forgotten, its lessons about mental illness and access to guns, about discrimination and social acceptance, about civic pride, education, altruism, and the ideals of America as a welcoming community unheeded.

On the fifth anniversary of the ACA shootings, I wrote about why I think that is so.

Early last month, I posted about my thoughts on gun regulations and the Second Amendment.

I am grateful that President Obama is taking further common-sense steps to ensure that more background checks take place. I call on Congress – again – to take action to change the laws to protect people from gun violence.

The United States loses over 30,000 people every year to gunshots. If we were losing 30,000 people to plane crashes, it would be considered a calamity of the highest order and there would be swift action to rectify the situation.

The people of the United Sates deserve action – now.
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Onward from COP21

I have been reading about and reflecting on the climate accord resulting from the recent COP21 talks in Paris. Over 190 countries, nearly the entire world, has signed on to cut greenhouse gases to try to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius, with hopes that the limit can be lowered to 1.5 degrees, which will likely keep low-lying island nations habitable.

While much has been made of the fact that the combined pledges of the countries will not keep warming under two degrees, I have hope because every country will have to publicly state their progress and will have to update their goals every five years. As President Obama and others have pointed out, five years ago no one was predicting that the price of solar panels would come down so rapidly and that their use would increase so dramatically, so it is likely that innovations, technology access, efficiency gains, and economics will combine to help countries make their goals more ambitious over time, so that the 1.5 degree goal can be achieved.

Further, the accord adds incentive to preserving and restoring plants that can take up more carbon dioxide to help restore a better carbon budget, which is needed to eventually stabilize the climate. Global temperature is already almost one degree Celsius higher than it was in the pre-industrial age, and we are feeling the effects in global temperatures, increased severe weather and droughts, melting glaciers and permafrost, and ocean temperature rise and acidifcation.

While I wish that there had been more emphasis on climate justice and the rights of the economically disadvantaged, as Pope Francis writes about so eloquently in Laudato Si’,  I hope that other United Nations documents will be taken into account along with the climate agreement to help protect and improve the lives of those living in poverty and those whose homes and food supplies are threatened by climate disruption.

While some Republicans have said that they will not honor the commitments that the United States has made to reduce its carbon emissions if a Republican is elected to the presidency next year, I think that they are mistaken. The omnibus budget bill just passed by Congress allocates funds toward our commitments.  The US has already achieved 10 of its 26-28% reduction target from 2005 emission levels, with ten years to add the further 16-18%. Rules that are already in place for further emission cuts would be very difficult to rescind.

Perhaps most importantly to Republicans, many major businesses have made public commitments to emissions cuts, renewable energy utilization, efficiency gains, etc.; they appreciate the predictability that this international agreement brings. Furthermore, because so many US companies operate internationally, they will be dealing with other countries’ goals and methods, including various carbon pricing mechanisms.  Cutting carbon emissions is a good business practice and the Republicans will have to realize that refusing to cooperate with the international community on the COP21 agreement will hurt not only US credibility and leadership but also its businesses and economy.

Climate and social justice advocates throughout the world are energized to keep the momentum going. People everywhere are keeping vigil and make changes in their own lives to help, as Pope Francis terms it, “care for our common home.”


What I’ve been writing this week

Well, not much for blog posts or poems. I did have to do some commentary on articles about fracking because the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the fracking ban in New York State has produced another round of pieces on fracking, including a lot of hand-wringing from people who still believe the lies of the landmen from the early days of the ordeal.

But most of my writing this week has been Christmas/holiday cards, which are finally all in the mail.

While there have been many items on the Christmas to-do list that I have winnowed down over the years, sending holiday cards has remained one of my top priorities.

My ideal is to choose a card from my stash for each person/family on my list, hand signed with a short greeting, sealed with a Christmas Seal, and affixed with a holiday stamp appropriate for the recipient – Madonna and child for church friends, more secular designs for those who are more secular Christmas celebrants or who aren’t Christian. (While I tend to call it my Christmas card list, I include Jewish friends, agnostic friends, etc. on my list. Wishes for peace are always in season, as are wishes for happiness in the new year.)

Some cards get longer handwritten notes and some get a printed letter enclosed, which, while it has a common core, is personalized for each friend and signed by hand.

Some years include a family photo.

There are still vestiges of old-style etiquette stuck in my head…

In some years recently, reality has intervened and I haven’t lived up to my ideal. For instance, last year when I had shingles, I resorted to just sending a mass letter to most of my usual list. No card. No personalization. I delegated or axed almost everything else on the to-do list that year, but I refused to give up on sending greetings.

The real motivation for me is that many of these greetings go to people who I know longer get to see every year, people from various stages of my life – friends from school, neighbors who have moved away, relatives who live far away. It is my way of keeping in touch, of reminding people that they are still important to me.

Some of these people I haven’t heard back from in years, but that doesn’t matter. Some are too busy or too old or not oriented toward written communication. I don’t send greetings so that I get cards in return.

I know that the love I send out is received. That is the reason I will keep writing, addressing, stamping, and mailing every year as long as I am able.

Good News for the Southern Tier

Like many other former industrial powerhouses, my home region, the Southern Tier of New York (midway across the southern border of the state with Pennsylvania), has struggled with economic development.

In recent years, while there has been some growth in the education, health care, and arts sectors here in the Binghamton area, the formerly strong manufacturing and hi-tech sectors are a shadow of their former selves.

Since 2011, New York has had an economic development system organized as various regional economic development councils, which make plans which compete for funding. The eight counties of the Southern Tier have won some funding in prior years, but this year the stakes were especially high, with three regional prizes worth $500 million ($100 million a year for five years) each available. The other five regions will share a larger-than-usual pot of funds, so no one is left out.

The Southern Tier economic development plans have always been well-received, including in 2011 when the timeline for initial plans was very tight and coincided with a record flood. Some of our projects have been funded, but progress has been slow, leading to additional hand-wringing and pressure to allow shale gas development, even though only a few jobs would be generated at considerable environmental cost.

While I am grateful that shale gas development was (mostly) taken off the table in New York State last December, our area needed more concrete plans to add jobs in our region.

In the form of one of the $500 million awards announced yesterday, we finally have commitment from the state to help make that possible.

The Greater Binghamton area where I live is central to the plan, with major revitalization centered around the Route 17c corridor.  The Binghamton segment is mixed-use, blending business, retail, arts, increased living space, downtown University presence, and waterfront development. Johnson City is centered on health science/technology and culture, with Endicott, the original home of IBM, centered on advanced manufacturing, including an industrial 3D printing center.  We are excited to begin!

There are projects already lined up for the first year allocation of $100 million, with plans to leverage additional private capital. Of course, the rest of the region is not left out. There are plenty of other projects being funded, too, including food/agriculture initiatives for our many rural communities.

I have been one of the rare cheerleaders for our region, which tends toward pessimism about everything, including our typical-for-the-Northeast weather. I often used some of the earlier projects of our Regional Economic Development Council as alternatives to fracking in my years of commentary on that topic, for which I was frequently ridiculed.

I am ecstatic that my optimism is being rewarded.


(Excelsior is the state motto of New York and is usually translated as “Ever Upward.”)


sharing blogging tips

Would you like to read some blogging tips and share some of your own?  Pop over to my blog-friend Jay Dee’s blog I Read Encyclopedias for Fun and join in the discussion:

I admit that I don’t follow all the advice that is offered.  For example, I choose to have a wide-ranging blog rather than a focused one. I am also notoriously bad at handling images, and can’t imagine ever adding video. However, I also never set out to have a large readership, so I am comfortable going my own way on those things.

I do, however, try to be good about responding to comments and about visiting and commenting on other blogs. It’s what makes bloggers into a community.

Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, and I

A friend posted a link to this article: on Facebook a few days ago. Gloria Steinem writes about her reactions to Hillary Clinton as she ran for New York Senator and for the Democratic nomination for president and about some other women’s reactions which were not as positive as hers. Her article inspired me to add my own viewpoint.

When Bill Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination for the first time, he was in trouble for reports of him having affairs.  Bill and Hillary appeared for a joint interview on 60 Minutes. I remember thinking that the wrong person was running for president. While Bill is undoubtedly the more charismatic, Hillary struck me as being the more intelligent of the two. Being first lady of Arkansas and then of the United States didn’t really give her the opportunities to reach her full capacity in service and in leadership.

I appreciated that when she ran for Senate in New York she did a lot of listening and I was proud to be able to vote for her. She did a good job as Senator and gained valuable experience. When she ran for the presidential nomination in 2008, I felt she was the stronger candidate than Barack Obama because she had more experience, as Steinem notes in her piece. Because I am an independent and New York has a closed primary system, I wasn’t allowed to vote, though.

The experience Hillary gained as Secretary of State in the Obama administration makes her even more experienced as a candidate now. I do have a problem, though. Because she had to spend so much of her time in the public eye supporting someone else’s vision and having to play the game that women often have to play to prove that they are “tough” enough to participate in predominantly male environments, it is hard to pin down what policies she believes in herself, as opposed to positions she had to take on for other reasons.

While I am excited by the prospect of a woman president and believe that Hillary will gain the Democratic nomination and the presidency, at the moment I am supporting fellow independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Bernie’s progressive views most closely match my own and he has been amazingly consistent in his vision over the decades. I believe his candidacy has been good for Hillary, helping her to articulate her own progressive views that had gotten buried in the years of having to follow the lead of her husband, her party leadership, and President Obama as a member of his Cabinet.

I do deplore the amount of snark – and worse – that women candidates have to endure. As Steinem points out, some of the disapproval comes from other women, where it is often a reflection of dissatisfaction with a woman’s own life rather than an actual disagreement with the candidate. Further, Clinton has to contend with actual hatred directed at her by some partisans. No Congressional committee would have questioned Sec. Colin Powell for eleven hours as the House Benghazi committee did this past week with Clinton. I agree with Steinem that, had I faced the choice to run for Senate that Hillary did, I would have said no. Running for president – twice – is even more punishing.

It feels odd, as a feminist, not to be on Hillary’s bandwagon yet. I am again faced with the situation that I don’t have a vote until the general election, when I fully expect that I will be casting my vote for Hillary Clinton and her running mate. Meanwhile, I will back the candidate whose positions I share most closely, Bernie Sanders.

The “Confidence Gap”

The last several years in the United States have seen a number of articles, books, and studies about why women remain much less prominent than men in the upper echelons of business and government.

Some put the onus on women themselves for (variously) taking time off or cutting back responsibilities at work to tend to family, lack of self-confidence, and lack of ambition.

Research has made clear, though, that our country and our businesses, which we all like to think are meritocracies, are in fact, not.

What research has found in brief:
Women in the United States have been graduating from college at a higher rate than men and often have higher skill levels.
Though women are more skilled, they are also more likely to be humble. Men tend to exhibit a confidence level that they can’t actually back up with their skill set.
Despite this, managers tend to promote confident but less-competent men over more-humble but more-competent women.
If women adopt behaviors that are more confident, even when they have the skill set to back it up, they are viewed negatively, considered pushy, bossy, etc.

While women have been blamed for not being confident or ambitious enough, the bottom line is that the system is executed in a way that favors male-prevalent behavior patterns and penalizes female-prevalent ones, while also penalizing women who adopt more stereotypically male behaviors.

We need to stop blaming women and start changing corporate practices. Make assignments and promotions on the basis of demonstrated skills, not on who talks a good game. Actively solicit ideas and opinions from everyone on the team. Organize work hours in a way that helps people to manage their other responsibilities to family, community, etc. This is not just a women’s issue. Men also need to juggle multiple commitments.

To continue in the current mode is a waste of some of the knowledge, skills, and talents that women can bring to our companies, organizations, and government.

It’s (past) time for a change.

My nomination for House Speaker

So, the US Republican party is in disarray.

The current House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation goes into effect on October 30. House majority leader Kevin McCarthy has just withdrawn his name from consideration as the next Speaker, as a sizable chunk of the party would not support him.

The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone that the whole Republican caucus agrees on for the post, which is incredibly important to get legislation passed into law and is also third in line for the succession of the presidency after the vice president.

My solution is that Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker and current House minority leader, should be the next Speaker, supported by the Democrats and those Republicans who actually want to govern rather than be obstructionist.

There is vital legislation for the debt ceiling and for the budget that must be passed to avert severe negative economic consequences. If the Republicans can’t get their act together to govern effectively, they don’t deserve the speakership.

a study in contrasts

This afternoon, I attended the first in a series of six sessions studying Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ (In Care of Our Common Home).  In a small group and then with the whole room, we had been discussing access to clean drinking water as a human right and how that right is denied to so many now, either through the mechanism of climate change or through inequitable distribution and use of water resources.

I was listening to the radio as I drove away and heard a story about how most McDonald’s restaurants are now serving breakfast all day, but, due to kitchen limitations, each had to decide whether to serve biscuit sandwiches or egg McMuffins as part of all day breakfast, as there wasn’t room for both.

The contrast was stark.

I wish that we were hearing more, speaking out more, and doing more about water rights, here in the United States and around the world, especially the access of those who have limited financial means. Also, climate issues, peacemaking, social justice, and global initiatives to end poverty.

Egg McMuffins versus sausage biscuits? Not so much.