the t-word

I’ve written before about my support for Bernie Sanders as the presidential candidate whose views most closely resemble my own.

I have not been writing about my opposition to the ideas and the tone of the Republican campaign, particularly those of the frontrunner whose name I use sparingly, if at all, so as not to spread the hatefulness.

This finds me avoiding using a word that I tend to use when speaking and, more sparingly, when writing.

The verb “trump” means “to be more important than.”

I can’t use it without clarifying that I’m not being unduly ironic.

I resent not having use of a perfectly good word, but not as much as I resent the way our Constitution, our values, and common decency are being trampled this election season.

 

SoCS: this and that

This post is going to bounce around a lot because it is about this and that.

Someone I know is running for the US Congress!  Kim Myers, with whom I served on committees in our school district, is going to run for a seat in the New York 22nd district. She is running for the Democratic nomination; our current Representative is retiring. He is a Republican and considered a moderate – which is what used to be considered very conservative. Kim has served on the school board in our town for 18 years. Recently she has been sitting on the Broome County legislature, where she is the only woman and the minority leader.  I’m so hoping Kim will be elected. She is well-known in our part of the district also because she is from the Stack family, who founded Dick’s Sporting Goods. Their original location in Binghamton is still open. She has been involved in philanthropy for years, too.

Unfortunately, this brings to mind presidential election stuff…  More primaries and caucuses this weekend. The Republican race has descended further into name-calling and ridicule. At least, the Democratic side talks about issues.

Last night, we got to see a livestream of T’s concert. Her choir, the Hendrick’s Chapel Choir, sang in a choral showcase with all the other Syracuse University choirs. Each group sang a couple of their own pieces and then joined together to sing two spirituals arranged by their guest conductor who had been vising for the week from Temple University. T is a graduate student, not at Syracuse, but at SUNY – Environmental Science and Forestry, which is directly adjacent to Syracuse. ESF students are eligible for courses and extracurricular activities at Syracuse U, so it has meant that T gets to sing in a great choir program, which she loves.

This has been tax prep week. I helped my parents with their taxes earlier in the week and yesterday I plowed through ours and T’s. I am very grateful for TurboTax! I’d hate to have to do them all long-hand, as I used to years ago.

It’s chilly here today, but a big warm-up is in store. By mid-week, it is supposed to get up to 60 F (15 C) which is tremendously warm for early March.

The maple sap has been running early, but there was a maple syrup related tragedy this week. The Holleran family owns a sugarbush in New Milford PA, not that far from here. There is a proposal for a new methane pipeline, the Constitution, that starts in PA, then continues into NY. New York has not yet approved it, but FERC gave permission for tree-felling to begin in PA. The Holleran’s did not want to have their trees cut down; the pipeline route is taking out 90% of their maple trees. The courts allowed the company to take the land by eminent domain, which many of us think is unconstitutional because the land is being taken for private profit rather than public use. At first, the work crews turned away because the trees were tapped and the family and other tree defenders were on the property, which is their land still, even with the court order. The company went to court and then they came back with tree crews accompanied by armed officers and cut down all the trees. The Holleran’s and others had painted American flags on the trees. It was so jarring to see these trees with flags painted on them stacked up. We are all just sick about it. If New York does not approve it, the pipeline will not go in and they will have killed all those trees and taken away part of the family’s farm income for no reason at all.

A happier part of this past week is that I sent in my paperwork and deposit for the Boiler House Poets reunion at Mass MoCA this fall. I am thrilled because one of my poet-friends here is going to come with me. We had a couple of spaces because some of our original group is unable to make the reunion. We are going to be in North Adams for the Fall Foliage Festival and for my birthday. It will be so great!

Well, I could go on writing about this and that for a lot longer, but I think I had better stop before your eyes glaze over. So, that’s that!
*****
This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. The prompt this week was “this and that” – a post about this and that, beginning and possibly ending with “this” or “that.” Come join the fun!  Find out how here:    http://lindaghill.com/2016/03/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-516/

SoCS badge 2015

 

Advice for the Clinton campaign

I have written before about being a supporter of Bernie Sanders for president because his views align most closely with mine, especially on environmental protection, economics, health care, military spending and campaign finance reform. As a native New Englander, I have known about him and followed his career for decades and appreciate his consistent stance on equality for all without regard to gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I am not averse to Hillary Clinton; I just happen to favor Senator Sanders’ positions.

I am also an independent and would like to offer Secretary Clinton some advice to keep her campaign from alienating Senator Sanders supporters and the many independents in the country. Because neither major party commands the majority of the electorate, any candidate who aspires to the presidency must be able to draw support from independent voters.

1.)  Don’t criticize Senator Sanders for not being a Democrat. He did you an enormous favor by running for the Democratic nomination instead of mounting a campaign as an independent.  He has been able to generate huge grassroots support and funds from small donors without having any superPACs. One of the things that appeals to many of his supporters is that he is an independent who is not beholden to a party machine or to corporate campaign dollars. Which leads to the next point…

2.)  Stop pretending that you are not part of the establishment.  Seriously. You and your campaign sound totally ridiculous when you make the claim of being an outsider.  Being a woman does not disqualify you from being part of the establishment. Is former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not part of the Democratic establishment?  Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz is chair of the Democratic National Committee, which is definitely an Establishment position.  You spent eight years in the White House as part of what you and President Clinton billed as “two for the price of one” public servants.  I voted for you to be Senator of New York, but Wall Street, also your constituent, made out a lot better than my upstate town during your time as Senator.  You served in President Obama’s cabinet, which is certainly admirable service and valuable experience, but it is definitely part of the establishment.  All of the superdelegates, who are part of the establishment in their home states, are lining up for you because you are part of the Democratic establishment and Senator Sanders is not. (Point of information for my non-US readers:  While Sanders has caucused with the Democrats throughout his years in Congress, he has never been a member of the Democratic party.  He describes himself as a democratic socialist, which is a familiar term to Europeans who usually have a party with that philosophy in their countries.)

3.)  Don’t criticize women who support Senator Sanders.  I am a feminist and, like you, a proud graduate of a Seven Sisters college. I would very much like to see a woman president.  But my wish to see a woman president does not blind me to the fact that I agree with Senator Sanders’ views more than with yours. It’s insulting for your surrogates to condemn me to hell for not yet supporting your campaign; it doesn’t give me a feeling that you appreciate my intelligence and opinions.  It’s even more insulting to the  young women who are in the Sanders’ camp. My 20-something daughters and their friends have graduated from school into a horrible job market. When they can find jobs, they are often underpaid. Many of them are struggling with student debt. A federal living wage means a lot to them. Single payer health care would give tremendous peace of mind, especially for those who live in states that did not expand Medicaid, creating large groups of people without access to affordable insurance.  People who support Bernie Sanders are supporting a feminist, too, as well as a long-time champion of civil rights.

4.)  Remember that the votes of independents are crucial.  In many states, people who are not enrolled in a political party can choose to vote in either primary on election day.  Even in closed primary states, such as New York, voters are listening to how you are campaigning and will remember when the general election comes in November. Independents are turned off by overly partisan arguments and are reminded of the gridlock that has been so destructive in recent years.

5.)  Clearly lay out your position on issues and your history.  You and your campaign need to do this without mischaracterizing Senator Sanders’ positions, history, and experience. I have heard you and your campaign do this over and over. It makes you look weak.  It’s much better to draw distinctions against the Republican candidates and the actions of the Republicans in Congress when you give speeches and interviews.  That will also help all the Democrats running for office. You also need to explain which of your positions are your own and which you adopted because they were President Clinton’s positions or the Democratic party’s positions or President Obama’s positions. If your position on an issue has evolved, say so and tell us why. We need to know.

As I am finishing this, I am watching the first return for Super Tuesday primaries. Yes, Clinton will win most of the states today, but Sanders will garner hundreds of delegates as well. The campaign will be continuing. Let’s make it as positive and illuminating as possible.

Just when you thought things were as complicated as possible…

Last week, there was “breaking news” that former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was endorsing Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. She has been campaigning with him this week in her own inscrutable style.

I thought things were about as complicated as they could be with Clinton and Sanders close in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire and Trump still leading the giant Republican field with Cruz in second place.

And then billionaire and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, upset that it might turn into either Trump or Cruz versus Sanders in the general election, announced that he was considering running as an independent candidate, which he would finance on his own up to one-billion dollars. He will decide by early March after he sees the outcome of the first few state contests.

Bloomberg has been a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent. I am uneasy at the prospect of him running in the general election totally on the basis of having enough money to fund a campaign, without any participation of the voters.

If Trump gets the Republican nomination, Bloomberg enters as an independent, and either Sanders or Clinton get the Democratic nomination, we would have all the major candidates with ties to New York, which is a little strange.  (Although Bernie Sanders has spent most of his adult life in Vermont, you can still here the accent of his native Brooklyn when he speaks.)

I had already felt that this political cycle was chaotic.

I can’t come up with a word to adequately describe it now.
*****
This post is part of Linda’s Just Jot It January. Join us! Start here:  http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/24/just-jot-it-january-24th-compelled/

JJJ 2016

To find the rules for Just Jot It January, click here and join in today.

 

another debate

Tonight, there will be a debate among the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency.

Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, has failed to gain traction with voters, so most eyes will be fixed on Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State, New York Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Sanders and Clinton are close in the public opinion polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to award delegates for the nominating convention.

There is one aspect of the race for the nomination and the general election that I feel is important but that isn’t being discussed much in the press. While Sen. Sanders is running for the Democratic nomination, he is not a Democrat himself. While in Congress, he has caucused with the Democrats, while retaining his status as an Independent.

Among the US electorate, there are more voters who are independent, that is, not registered with any political party, than there are voters who are registered Democrats or Republicans.

In some states, such as my native Massachusetts, independents can decide on the day of the primary which party ballot to vote; in others, such as my current home state New York, only registered members of the party are allowed to vote in that party’s primary.

I am an independent, so ineligible to vote in the primary, which is especially vexing this year as I am a supporter of Senator Sanders, but will not be able to vote for him in the New York primary.

The story that many in the media are missing is the possible impact of independent voters in the race.  In states with open primaries, Senator Sanders may draw significant support from progressive independents, while he may poll more poorly in states with closed primaries where only registered Democrats are allowed to vote.

The interesting thing to study is whether how well Sanders polls versus potential Republican rivals is due to his increased appeal to Independent voters. If so, it is something for the Democrats to keep in mind in choosing a candidate who can appeal to and energize the most voters in the general election.

In the United States, turnout is the most important factor in elections. A candidate who can marshal not only the party that nominated him/her but also the independents is the one who will win the election.
*****
This post is part of Linda’s Just Jot It January. Join us! First, visit here:   http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/17/just-jot-it-january-17th-collection/

JJJ 2016

To find the rules for Just Jot It January, click here and join in today.

Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, and I

A friend posted a link to this article:  http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/19/gloria-steinem-hillary-clinton-white-house?CMP=share_btn_fb 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.

Government Gridlock: Theme and Variations

Before the Nov. 4 US elections, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not the Republicans would take a majority of the Senate seats. I thought about weighing in, but didn’t because I realized it wouldn’t really matter. We would just be swapping one flavor of legislative gridlock for another.

A primer of the US system, for those who don’t live in the United States:  Legislation must be passed by the majority of both houses of Congress, The House of Representatives and the Senate. (If each houses passes a different version of a bill, a conference committee drafts a compromise version for approval.) The President can sign the legislation into law or veto it. In the case of a veto, the bill doesn’t become law unless a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress vote to override the veto. The other important word to know is filibuster. In the Senate, 60 of 100 votes are needed to move a bill forward for a vote. This was originally designed as a way for minority views to be heard and was time-limited by the length of time that Senators could speak, but has morphed into a tool to block any legislation for which there are not 60 votes in favor, even if it has majority support of 51-59 votes.

Congress has been gridlocked for most of President Obama’s time in office. There was a brief period in the beginning of his presidency with a Democratic majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This was when the stimulus bill and the Affordable Care Act were passed.  The Republicans had vowed not to support anything the President wanted, but they could not stop legislation, so there was no gridlock then, even though the Republicans were refusing to co-operate in governing.

Within months, due to the death of Senator Kennedy and a special election that went to a Republican, the Democrats lost the ability to break a filibuster in the Senate and the first flavor of gridlock began. Instead of the rare use of the filibuster that had been the case for the 200+ year history of the Senate, the Republicans began filibustering almost every piece of legislation and many nominations for judgeships and executive branch appointees. The Democratic majority House was still passing bills, but the Democratic majority Senate could not get them to the floor because the 41 Republicans kept filibustering.

Next, the Republicans, thanks largely to gerrymandering of Congressional districts within states, took the majority in the House, which began phase two of gridlock, where the House passed dozens of bills that were never going to be taken up in the Senate, like voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act fifty times, while the Senate Republicans filibustered almost everything that was proposed. When there was a rare instance of bipartisanship, such as the Senate passage of comprehensive immigration reform, the Republicans in the House wouldn’t even bring it up for a vote. Meanwhile, the filibuster in the Senate blocked nominations for key posts, so we faced the ebola situation without a surgeon general to lead and co-ordinate the efforts and the debacle with Russia and Ukraine without a US ambassador to Russia.

So, with the electorate already frustrated with gridlock and disgusted that this Congress is about to break the shameful record set by the last Congress for least number of laws passed, we held elections last week. Turnout was 36.3% of eligible voters, the lowest in seventy-two years. In many Congressional districts, including mine, an incumbent was running unopposed. The Republicans will hold a majority in both houses of Congress.

One could hope that the Republicans would now decide to co-operate with the Democrats in governing, as many past Congresses have done when one party had majorities in Congress with a sitting president from the other party.

Unfortunately, such hope is not warranted.

We are just going to move on to the next flavor of gridlock, although this one will probably have a bit more spice to it. Some legislation that the Democrats find particularly objectionable will be filibustered in the Senate. Other legislation may pass by both houses on party-line votes, get vetoed by the president, and then die because there will not be a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

The mystery lies in what happens after that political theater is over. Will the Republicans, having satisfied their base with their initial votes, actually work to craft a bipartisan solution which could pass both houses and be signed by the president?

I wish I could say yes, but recent Republican party history and current rhetoric do not give cause for hope.

I voted for myself

 
I got back from my polling place, which had a steady stream of citizens coming in to vote. Yay, Democracy!
Well, sort of yay…
Because of the gerrymandering of Congressional districts, there was only one candidate on the ballot for Congress, an incumbent who is part of the problem of Washington gridlock and with whom I fundamentally disagree on a host of important issues.
Despite his being the only name on the ballot, I could not bring myself to vote for him. I also did not want to leave that column of the ballot blank, so I decided to vote for myself.
I shared this plan with my Facebook friends yesterday, so I may get a few other write-in votes, too.
Here’s hoping that in two years I will have more choices on the ballot.

On being a NY fracktivist

My sign - side one
My sign – side one

I spend a fair, some might say inordinate, amount of time on the fight to keep fracking out of New York State and to limit and end its use elsewhere. I frequently write comments on articles about it, a small fraction of which I share here at Top of JC’s Mind or on Facebook.  (For those who don’t know, fracking is the shorthand name for a process that extracts liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons from rock by using a mix of water, sand, and chemicals at extremely high pressure to fracture the rock.  Tons of information about environmental and health effects are available here: http://concernedhealthny.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/CHPNY-Fracking-Compendium.pdf )

I also attend events, rallies, and meetings when I can.  Fracktivists (or fractivists, a spelling I don’t use as often because people sometimes glance at it and read it as fascists, which takes their mind in a totally wrong direction) in New York have taken to showing up with signs asking for a ban on fracking whenever Governor Cuomo appears in public, usually on his way to an event that has restricted access.  This bird-dogging, as it is called, has become even more important in the run-up to the November election.

While Cuomo claimed that, as governor, he would keep an open public calendar, he has taken to keeping his schedule secret until the last possible moment. Thus, it wasn’t until late Wednesday evening that we got word that the governor would be arriving at Binghamton University at 11:00 AM Thursday.  Isaac, our intrepid community organizer – did you know that community organizers can become president some day? – quickly got the word out and about twenty of us showed up, signs in hand, to greet the governor’s motorcade and chant “Ban Fracking Now!”

As important as it is for Cuomo to see us wherever he goes, it is equally important that members of the press talk to us.  We had three television stations, public broadcasting radio, and the local newspaper taking interviews.  We were happy that Dr. Sandra Steingraber was among our number that day.  She is a biologist and public health expert who is currently at Ithaca College, a nationally and internationally known expert in toxic impacts of industrial pollution who is spending the lion’s share of her time and effort these days in the fight against fracking.  All the media outlets interviewed her.  Here is a sample of coverage that we received:  http://www.binghamtonhomepage.com/story/d/story/fractivists-protest-gov-cuomos-visit/34621/XNJzJy-Dkk-O7Wrr4WZOig.

We have been at this for several years and may be at it for several more.  It’s tough to fight an industry that spreads its huge wealth around to politicians to keep our country using polluting, climate-killing fossil fuels, but we have to keep fighting because it is so important to our present and future.

My sign - side two
My sign – side two

school district election day

Today, across New York State, voters are heading to the polls for school district elections. For some reason I have never been able to ascertain, school budgets are the only ones that are voted on directly in New York. Unfortunately, sometimes this means that school budgets fail as a general statement against taxes, forcing second votes on revised budgets or austerity budgets that cut all extracurriculars and all-but-bare-bones transportation.

This year, there has been an unusual amount of advertising to pass the school budget. I think it is to convince people not to use the budget vote as an opportunity to take out their frustration with the contentious rollout of common core standards in the state. For the record, I no longer have school-aged children in my household, so I haven’t experienced common core directly in my family. I do support the concept of common core, to cover fewer topics in a school year, but in greater depth, in contrast to the current trend toward a mile wide but an inch deep approach. New York State’s curriculum has long been infected with survey-itis. For example, in the social studies curriculum, a survey of US history is taught in fifth grade, again as a two-year sequence in seventh and eighth grades, and then again as a one year Regents course in high school, locally usually taken in 11th grade. Because so much time is devoted to rushing through large amounts of material, there isn’t time to engage in in-depth analysis of any time period or theme. When I was in high school in Massachusetts several decades ago, we had options for semester-long US history courses in Civil War and Reconstruction, Minorities in America, Presidential Greatness, or several other options. Already expected to have an overview of our country’s history, we were able to develop deeper understanding of the hows and whys of history, which also helped to inform our lives as active citizens.

The upset over the implementation of common core seems to mirror two statewide changes that happened during my children’s school careers, the ending of local high school diplomas in favor of more rigorous Regents diplomas for all graduates and reform of state-wide tests in fourth and eighth grades and high school Regent exams. It also mirrors the transition to a new high school honors program on the local level. The root of the problems with all these changes was not that the final goals, but the transition itself, in which students are tested in the new framework without the benefit of the years of preparatory study that is in place when the transition is complete, resulting in lower test scores as these students catch up to the new standards. It seems that the same mechanism is happening with the transition to common core.

The other oddity of this election locally is that we have eight candidates running for four board of education seats. Given that candidates often run unopposed or with only one more candidate than seats available, this year is a hot contest. Even more unusual, there is a group of four being presented almost as a slate, advertised together in mailings, on yard signs, and in hand-delivered fliers, and endorsed by the local teachers’ union.

Voting is from 12-9 PM today at the local elementary schools. It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

UPDATE:  The budget passed by a wide margin. All four of the candidates endorsed by the teachers’ union were elected; the two incumbents who were running for re-election got only 50-60% of the voting totals of the successful candidates.

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