three anniversaries

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the the terrorist attacks by plane which cost over 3,000 lives in New York City, Arlington, Virginia and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attacks have cost additional lives as those who were exposed to debris and air pollution in the following months went on to develop serious health issues.

Many, many more lives were destroyed  – and continue to be destroyed – by the fifteen years of war which have followed.

On Friday at Binghamton University, there was a presentation on the aftermath of the attacks entitled “9/11: What have we learned? Where do we go from here?” Featured speakers were Ray McGovern and Donna Marsh O’Connor. Video is available here. The theme was building peace, not war. Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her daughter who was pregnant with her grandchild, spoke movingly about not wanting the death of her daughter to be an excuse for violence and war. Ray McGovern, who was once a CIA analyst, recounted the way that the situation after the attacks was manipuated to spread the war to Iraq. Mr. McGovern is now a peace activist.

Peace.

Something that I want desperately.

For all of us.

Wherever we are.

Whoever we are.

At church on Sunday, we sang, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I cried.

Adding to the emotion is a local anniversary. Five years ago, we were suffering from a historic flood after the remnants of tropical storm Lee dropped about ten inches of rain. Parts of my town were underwater, as were other nearby towns along the Susquehanna River. At my home, we had no power and only avoided a flooded basement because we had a generator to keep our sump pump operating. There were flooded homes and standing water three blocks away. In the five years since, we have seen some neighborhoods decmiated as homes were torn down, unable to be replaced as the land was considered too high-risk to inhabit.

Every time there is a flood in the news, we have a good idea what those people are going to go through and how long the process is.

As we watch coverage of floods, blizzards, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and other weather-related disasters, we are painfully aware that their increased frequency and severity is related to global comate change. There is a new website that shows how much impact global warming has on weather events. It does a good job showing how particular events are tied to changes in the atmosphere brought on by global warming.

It is sobering but a good tool to help explain the science.

Which leads to a third – and significantly happier – anniversary.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek. There have been marathons of episodes of the original series and interviews about it and its cultural impact as a franchise that spawned many television shows and movies. In their version of the future, earth is a peaceful place with a thriving natural environment. Poverty has been eliminated. There is racial and ethnic equality, although, while improved from the 1960’s reality, they still have a ways to go on sexual and gender issues.

In an odd way, though it is fiction, it does highlight that we can improve lives and health through science, knowledge, learning from past mistakes, ingenuity, co-operation, and good will.

Let’s get to work on that.

waking up to more violence

The level of violence in the United States and in the world was already much too high.

And then, there was this week.

It’s too much to bear.

Yet, we must go on.

But not with violence.

Not with vengeance.

We need to stop to reflect, to examine our problems as a society, to consider how to act with greater justice, mercy, peace, and love, to put the best solutions into practice, to uphold the dignity of each person and protect their safety.

We are all wounded, which makes us vulnerable.

Many want to repay violence with violence, but that is what has gotten us into our current untenable position.

The way of non-violence is not easy, but what has the way of violence gotten us?

I wish there was a way to magically draw us into harmonious communities, but there isn’t.

All I can do is look to my own thoughts and heart and keep them focused on positive change, not violence and vengeance.

And I can beg you to do the same.

Bernie, Hillary, and the Democrats

As we are in the final days of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, with Secretary Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, there is a lot of talk about what the future relationship will be between the candidates, the party, and the Sanders supporters.

I am a supporter of Sanders and posted several weeks ago on some of the things that I wanted going forward.

I realize that Senator Sanders has already had a large impact on Secretary Clinton and the Democratic party. There are multiple issues, such as income inequality, campaign finance reform, and climate action, that would not have gained prominence were it not for Bernie’s leadership and strong, consistent voice.  The Democrats would be wise to heed the counsel of the Sanders supporters on the platform committee and commit to and campaign on progressive ideals. With luck, this will result in a Congress that will enact reforms and set the country back on a path where the common good is the guiding principle.

I have heard some commentators proffer that the proof of the pudding will be if Sanders can deliver his supporters to the Democratic party, but I don’t think that that is a good measure.  Yes, he needs to help convince his supporters to vote for Clinton and her running mate to avoid the catastrophic prospect of a President Trump – and to elect the most progressive Congress members possible so that new laws and budgets put the common good first – but those voters do not need to be registered as Democrats to do so.

Part of Bernie’s strength and consistency of message and values over his long political career is due to the fact that he has been an Independent. While he caucused with the Democrats, he did not have to contend directly with the party apparatus, until this run for the presidency. Because so many Americans agree with his ideas, his campaign exceeded all expectations, both in winning votes, delegates, and caucuses and generating excitement, volunteers, and individual, small-dollar donors.

I don’t think, though, that these voters necessarily need to become Democrats to continue to support Sanders’ ideas. I plan to remain an Independent, although I devoutly wish that my state will change to an open primary system so that Independents can vote for the candidate of their choice regardless of party.

My hope is that, while Sanders won’t be president, his ideals will be incorporated in the next administration, with Sanders taking a prominent role in leadership in the Senate.

I’ll still be “feeling the Bern!”

What this Sanders’ supporter wants

There is a lot of ink, pixels, and airtime being spent speculating on what Bernie Sanders wants to get from the Democratic party, now that, short of a catastrophe on Sec. Clinton’s part, it looks impossible for him to gain the nomination.

Rachel Maddow has been saying that he must want more than changes in the party platform and I agree.

Senator Sanders seldom uses the word platform; he uses the word agenda. The literal translation from Latin of agenda is “the things which ought to be done.”

Senator Sanders and his supporters don’t want talk or words on a platform that will get filed in a drawer and forgotten. We want action on several important fronts.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts, which may or may not align with Senator Sanders’ and other supporters’.  After all, this is Top of JC’s Mind, so it is my prerogative…

1.)  I want a public option added to the Affordable Care Act which is available in every state. This is especially important for people who are currently in states that did not expand Medicaid, leaving millions ineligible for Medicaid and for subsidies through the federal exchange. I share Senator Sanders’ viewpoint that a single-payer “Medicare for all”system would be best, but I think that a public option would be a step in that direction, as well as an acknowledgement that health care should be counted among our human rights. Another helpful move in the health arena is to allow all government programs to negotiate on drug pricing.

2.)  I want Citizens United overturned and big money out of politics. I think our campaigns should be publicly funded with only small donations from citizens allowed. Bernie has shown that a national campaign can be funded with small dollar donations – if you have the right message and authenticity.

3.)  I want all primaries and caucuses to be open. Voters should be able to decide on voting day which candidate they prefer, even if they are not registered to a party. Like Senator Sanders, I am a long-time independent. Because I live in New York , which is a closed state, I could not vote for him on primary day.

4.)  I want everyone in the Clinton campaign to stop this nonsense about Hillary Clinton not being part of the establishment. Seriously. You sound ridiculous every time you pretend that someone who has been immersed in partisan politics for decades is not part of the establishment.

5.)  I want the country to be more equitable economically. We need a living wage enacted.  We need programs to eliminate poverty, hunger, and homelessness.  We need family leave policies. We need recognition that unpaid work, such as caregiving and volunteering, is also valuable to society. We need a fairer tax system which is progressive and taxes capital gains, carried interest, etc. at the same rate as income. We need to eliminate the ceiling on earnings subject to Social Security tax. We need to tax stock trades, as Senator Sanders has proposed. We need companies to invest in their workforce and communities and in research again, instead of continually cutting workers and offshoring jobs and profits. We need to make sure that financial institutions and other businesses behave ethically and don’t crash the economy. I could go on, but I’m sure you have the picture…

6.)  I want urgency in the area of combatting climate change. We are already suffering the effects and they will surely intensify in coming years, but if we don’t act quickly, we are dooming billions of 22nd and 23rd century people. So, fossil fuel subsidies need to end immediately. A stiff carbon tax needs to be enacted. The funds raised from those two things can be used to cushion the financial impact on people and to ramp up renewable energy/storage and energy efficiency initiatives. All new unconventional fossil fuel extraction should end immediately, as well as all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s like building a whaling ship as whale oil was rapidly being replaced as a lighting source.

7.)  I want comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

8.)  I want to cut military spending – a lot. We have been building military hardware that the military doesn’t even want. We spend more on our military than the next ten top-spending countries combined. We need to spend our tax dollars on things that build up people and communities here and around the world, not on things that are designed to destroy.

9.)  I want to restore our infrastructure.  Our roads, bridges, public transportation, railways, water/sewer systems, airports, and energy grid are in a sorry state. While we are at it, we can also re-design these systems to address climate change and threats from stronger storms and more severe floods/droughts.

10.)  I want a progressive to be Clinton’s running mate. I don’t think that Senator Sanders is an appropriate choice, given that he is older than Sec. Clinton and can be a big help in the Senate going forward.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would be a great choice, if she wants to run, although she is only slightly younger than Hillary.   Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon would be a good choice. He was the only progressive Senator with enough independence to endorse Bernie Sanders. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota would be a ground-breaking choice. Not only would he be the first African-American vice-president, but he would also be the first Muslim-American to rise to such a high national office.

11.)  I want pay equity for women. (I can barely believe we still have to fight for this.) I want an end to discrimination on any grounds – gender identity, marital status, race/ethnicity, health status, age, religion or lack thereof, whatever.

12.)  I want the common good to be the yardstick by which we measure progress, not profits or GDP.

Probably wise to stop at a dozen…

As I discussed in a prior post, the Democrats need to remember that it is independents who decide elections in the United States. They need the ideas, energy, support, and votes of Sanders’ supporters, both independents and Democrats, to win in November.

And it is clear that the Democratic Party nominee must win the presidency. Our well-being and standing as a world leader depend on it.

One-Liner Wednesday: Abigail Adams

“I long to hear that you have declared an independancy—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.”
~~ Abigail Adams in a letter to her husband John Adams, March 31, 1776

This One-Liner Wednesday quote is in honor of Women’s History Month.
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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.
*****
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Stay safe!

This morning, I am thinking about all those facing severe weather. There is a blizzard approaching the mid-Atlantic region of the US. Seventy-five million people will be affected, including my sisters and their families and B’s brother and his family. The forecast calls for a large swath of 2-3 feet (0.75-0.95 meters) of snow coupled with strong winds.

I live further north where we will only catch a few inches, if anything at all.

I am also thinking of others in the United States and around the world who are suffering from floods, droughts, tornadoes, cyclones, mudslides, avalanches, dust storms, and all other weather disasters.

I wish everyone safety and and the swift arrival of whatever aid they need.
*****
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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.
*****
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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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