Category Archives: Politics

What’s up with the Democrats and Republicans? Can they ever get along and get something accomplished?

Candidate Websites: The Good, Okay and Non-Existent

Like many Vermont citizens, I’ve been frustrated with the continuing saga of Vermont Health Connect (don’t bother clicking until November 15th, after the election).  Although, I am neither a VHC insurance customer or healthcare provider, my hope is for better access to healthcare and cost containment.  But as a taxpayer, it is not acceptable to see such results for the tax dollars spent.  It does not matter that it came from our federal pocket instead of our Vermont pocket; a tax dollar is a tax dollar.  As someone who works in the Information Technology field, and has seen the pros and cons of IT outsourcing over the years, it’s not completely surprising or unexpected, whether the customer is a business or government agency.

Given that it is election season, politicians have expressed their frustration with the so-called “Nothing Burger” that is VHC.  Not that many of these politicians and candidates have ever actually built a website, I share their exasperation.  The humorous comments I’ve heard have been along the lines of “it’s just a website” and “any teenager could build a better website than CGI”.  What VHC is attempting to do is beyond “just a website”.  VHC is supposed to be a web portal site with a back-end network of web applications and services amongst the State of Vermont, federal agencies and insurance company systems.  But “website” is how politicians and news reports describe it.

vhc_down_4maintVermont Health Connect (until November 15th)

This got me thinking about the websites of candidates.  How well do their websites or social media sites perform or provide useful information to voters and constituents?  There are many ways that candidates interact with citizens, including debates, forums, door-to-door, ads, postcards, flyers and public access TV segments.  A website is just one aspect of the overall campaign, yet it is a very important tool.  For younger voters and newer residents of Vermont, a website can help reach those voters.

So I began looking at Vermont Senate candidate websites, as there are a lot fewer candidates to review than the House.  With 55 candidates for 30 seats, this was a good sample to start with.  I gathered some information and website links into a spreadsheet, then created a webpage summarizing Senate candidate websites and social media sites.

The information presented is based on websites identified (found) as of October 19th, 2014.  I began with the Election 2014: Comprehensive Candidate list presented in VTDigger on June 20, 2014 (which was based on VT Secretary of State primary petitions).  I only searched for websites of candidates who won in the August primary.  I did not reference political party websites, except for Liberty Union candidates, since they listed the party website as their website.

This candidate “web presence” table identifies Vermont 2014 Senate candidates by county, party affiliation and their “web presence”, if any. You can click the icons in the table to reach a candidate’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, blog or LinkedIn profile.

From my software developer perspective, the main aspects of websites are content, style / graphic design, interactivity, navigation and security.  As an engaged voter, I feel that “Content” is the most important aspect.  Granted I am not a “visual” person, as I prefer reading and listening to music and news on the radio, over watching movies and TV.  While an attractive visual design is important, it cannot make up for content that is minimally useful, lacking, or out of date.  I can be tolerant of a plain looking or clunky website if it contains the useful information that I am looking for.

After you have checked out the table of candidate website links, feel free to comment below about what you think of the websites for Senate candidates in your county.  Tell us what you found to be good or bad about a given website.  Are you disappointed that a given candidate or incumbent doesn’t have any web presence at all, or if they do, the information is out of date?

When you look at the “web presence” table for icons and logos for websites and social media platforms, you can easily see which candidates are in the HTTP Status 404 Club.  Web servers, which host websites will send back an HTTP Status 404 message to your browser if a webpage cannot be found.  Similarly, if a candidate has no web presence, then I consider them to be Status 404 (not found).

candidate_website_http_status_404Candidates “not found” on the web (HTTP Status 404)

Since I am from Rutland County, I will give a summary of the web presence of our county’s seven candidates.  There are 3 incumbents running.  Sen. Eldred French is in the HTTP Status 404 Club.  Sen. Kevin Mullin has a Facebook page, but it was last updated on November 5, 2010, so that’s not much better.  Sen. Peg Flory has a recent Facebook page, which she started on September 23, which only has 3 posts, and no contact information on the About page (but I’ll bet that ALEC knows her contact information).

On the other hand, the newest candidates in Rutland County have put forth more effort as far as cultivating a web presence for voters to peruse.  William Tracy Carris has a pretty good website, with brief mentions of issues, but not a lot of specifics.  Anissa Delauri has made good use of Facebook, including Bio and Issues pages.  Brian Collamore has also done a fine job with Facebook.  Kelly Socia is the one-man Politically Incorrect Party, and his mission is to “Represent the people of Rutland County not a party.”  I can’t argue with that Kelly.  Maybe the Rutland County incumbents could learn a few things from these more tech savvy political newbies.  Granted, our incumbents do attend various forums and debates throughout the year, but not every voter can attend those events.  That is why having a more comprehensive, up to date web presence is so important to voters.  Candidates should not just count on “name recognition”.

In the “web presence” table, I also included links to LinkedIn profiles.  Given that some candidates have little or no web presence, perhaps LinkedIn might provide some useful information on professional background and career.

When you look at a campaign website, assuming that a candidate even has one, you often find the usual About, Contact, Events, Photos and Donate pages.  But I think more highly of candidates who have an Issues webpage, or at least summarize their top concerns or ideas.  Some candidates may have a nice looking website or a Facebook page, but don’t write down and publicly post what they actually think about specific issues.

Every voter is different.  You may or may not think candidate websites are important.  But if so, maybe you are interested in other things beside the Issues page.  Maybe you are turned off by retro looking websites or bad color schemes, and won’t bother spending the time reviewing the site after the initial impression.  Or, maybe you’re like me and look for the Issues link after reading the About page.

Check out your county’s candidate websites and social media sites, and tell us what you found, or could not find.  You can also let us know what you found regarding Vermont House candidates as well, once you find their site(s).  You only have about two more weeks of web surfing before Election Day.  Remember to vote on November 4th.

Standardized Tests for Politicians and Candidates

Recently, I read Peter Berger’s op-ed in VTDigger.org, “Poor Elijah’s Almanack: A collection of symptoms”.  One of his points was about how our polarized way of discussing various aspects of education (testing, curriculum, approaches and methods) make it difficult for teachers to do their job.  He gives examples from the “War on/about Math”, “War on/about Literacy”, and other “Wars on __________”.  Here is his concluding paragraph:

As long as schools are ruled by two fanatical, bankrupt extremes, no matter what the issue and no matter which side’s experts are advancing at the moment, students, teachers, and learning will be suffering in the middle.

Thanks Mr. Berger for another thought-provoking column.  Here are some of my thoughts and reactions:

As a backdrop to these polarizing “Wars on This or That” (Math, Language, Curriculum and Teachers, etc.), we live in a Digital World of either zero (0) or one (1).  With base-2 whole numbers, there is no middle or “fractional” ground.  Likewise our entrenched two-party system makes it difficult for independent or third party candidates to have a decent chance of winning.  Our media also continues this trap of “This Or That”, “A Versus B”, Republicans or Democrats, Conservatives versus Liberals.  If anyone outside our binary digit political system runs for office, well good luck with that.

It seems that the competitive and collective American Brain has a hard time dealing with “AND”, as it may cause cognizant dissonance, and won’t easily sell news, help ratings, or get R/D candidates elected.

Why can’t we take the best ideas from both political parties and fashion more workable legislation?

Why can’t we simultaneously apply the best parts of Math Basics and Problem Solving in the classroom?  I don’t necessarily mean multi-tasking during the same class period, but throughout a school year, use both approaches to complement each other.

The same thing goes for literacy.  Why not apply the best of both worlds, Phonics AND Whole Language, so that students get a more well-rounded education in reading and writing?

You could ask the same thing about “Learning Facts AND “Critical Thinking”.  You need to be able to know or do both.

When I learned to play music and guitar, I learned the “basics” of reading music, and later writing out standard music notation.  But I also later learned how to apply dynamics and effects, to give more meaning and emotion to playing.  Musicians need to know both the “basic literacy” and “whole language” of music.

It seems that our “War on Whatever” culture has produced professional advocates such that there are cottage industries that have grown up on either side of a given issue or “war”.  People make money and lucrative careers by taking sides, and can become “experts” in their fields, write books and appear on radio or TV espousing their beliefs.  The polarization continues on because it makes money for those who start or wage these Wars on (fill in the blank).

Meanwhile, teachers who are actually in the classroom must navigate through the crossfire of these “Wars about Education” to teach their students.

Since teachers must take Praxis exams, and are continually evaluated as to whether “highly effective” or not, and students must take “standardized tests”, I offer another benchmark for evaluating politicians or candidates.  We are in yet another even-numbered year, and November is approaching.

Politicians could stop spending money on negative campaign ads, and spouting off tired ideological talking points.  Instead, those seeking election or re-election should provide voters with:

1. Their High School GPA
2. Their High School Transcript
3. Their ACT and SAT test scores
4. Their College GPA
5. Their College Transcript
6. Their GRE grade for graduate school (or other standard testing)
7. Essay question: Why you are highly qualified to be our Representative, State Senator, Governor, etc.

How about it Democrats and Republicans running for public office?  Especially those of you who are critical of public schools and public school teachers!

Congress Beats War Drum, Time to Play Another Tune

I was able to watch most of Ken Burn’s documentary on PBS about “The Roosevelts”.  All four of Teddy Roosevelt’s sons volunteered for WWI. His youngest son, Quentin died in the war. Also, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four sons served overseas on WWII.

Since the mid-1960s, the percentage of veterans in Congress has fallen from the 60-70% range to less than 25%.  Today there are a few younger members of Congress who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  But most in Congress beat the War Drums to send other people’s children to war.

As awful as the beheading of the two U.S. journalists by ISIS is, let’s not forget that there have been similar murders in Mexico by drug gangs in the past decade.  Beginning over 20 years ago, there have been a handful of beheading cases in Detroit, mostly drug gang related. The main difference is that these cases were discovered after the fact, and were not broadcast on Twitter.  They occurred in North America, and not “over there” in the Middle East.

While “something” should be done regarding ISIS, war alone is not the answer. The more the world’s nations can work together, and make ISIS into a pariah, that is despised by most other Muslims in the world, only then things might improve. While the 2003 War in Iraq certainly was not helpful to this situation, it is not solely the problem or fault of the U.S.

Remember, 18 of 19 terrorists on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. Yet Bush/Cheney, friends of the Saudis, instead invaded Iraq.

The best that the Saudis can do, apparently so far, is provide training space for “moderate” rebels of Syria. Well, we can probably count the number of “moderates” in Congress on two hands.  So what makes us think we can actually find sufficient numbers of rebels from Syria, whom we could actually trust?

Saudi Arabia has the world’s 4th largest military. Why aren’t they offering to fly over “The Lavant” and attack ISIS?  Is it because they are both Sunni? Saudi Arabia, a very wealthy oil state, should at least pony up for the jet fuel for the war planes of the U.S. and other nations.

Unless Middle Eastern nations put forth significant effort towards diplomatic, humanitarian and military assistance, then we have no business getting embroiled in another “murky” situation in Iraq and Syria.  If neighboring countries in that region don’t offer sufficient help, then we should tighten our security, and begin to address the many domestic issues that already threaten us at home.

Detroit’s Slow-Motion Crash, America’s Race Against Time

When I heard the news Friday, July 19, that the City of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy, I was saddened, but not at all surprised.  Detroit has been under the jurisdiction of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, for four months.  Elected Mayor Dave Bing (and former Pistons basketball player), is effectively out of power, but he has been cooperating with Kevyn Orr during this transition.

Later the same day, President Obama made some heartfelt and personal remarks on race relations in America, in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial over the death of Trayvon Martin.  I see a connection of President Obama’s remarks to the racial history of metro Detroit, and how racial tensions were one of the contributing factors to Detroit’s decline over the decades.  Metro Detroit is one of the most segregated regions in America, north of Mississippi.  In some ways, metro Detroit is a Southern City trapped inside of a Northern State.

The City of Detroit could be compared to a slow-motion car crash, decades in the making.  Imagine a circa 1940 or 1950 Chevy cruising down Woodward Avenue, morphing into other vehicle models over time, up through a 2013 Chevy Volt (one of the few vehicles still manufactured in the City of Detroit), just before hitting a financial brick wall.  When watching those slow-motion crash test videos, you know what the outcome will be, but not exactly when the moment of impact will occur.

Although I moved away from metro Detroit in 1986, I grew up there and still have many family members living there, most of who work in the auto industry, or have since retired.  I travel to Detroit once or twice a year to visit my family.  At a young age, I was able to sense the racial and economic trajectory of metro Detroit.  I decided that I would eventually leave the area when I grew up.  I later moved to the Lansing area, before moving to Vermont.

I will try to describe Detroit’s slow-motion car crash in a nutshell.  Given the state of today’s U.S. economy, unemployment, declining middle class and racial tensions, I think there are lessons to be learned from Detroit’s situation.  Detroit has been the favorite punching bag of the news media and people in other states for many years.  But I see signs of what happened in Detoit decades ago in other parts of the country in recent times, even in Rutland County, Vermont where I have lived for 18 years.

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We Have Not Forgotten: Newtown Vigil, June 15, 2013, Brattleboro, VT

On June 15th, 2013, six months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a vigil was held in Brattleboro, VT to remember the students and teachers who lost their lives on December 14, 2012.

For each of the 26 names read aloud, a bell was rung. Also, in these past six months, 94 additional children age 12 and under have been killed, not to mention the number of teens and adults murdered in America. We have not forgotten. We cannot let our legislators in Congress and our state legislators forget these deaths.

Sticky Subjects: Gun Debate and Maple Syrup

In addition to the issues of gun safety, suicide, domestic violence, mass shooting, and mental illness, etc. there is also the issue of gun trafficking and straw purchases:

Chicago Gets Its Guns Where It Used to Get Its Blues

Like the blues song says: “Down in Mississippi”.

Vermont doesn’t want to be compared to Mississippi, do we? I mean, Vermont was the first state to outlaw Slavery in it’s Constitution! But Vermont is just like Mississippi when it comes to guns purchased in Vermont ending up being used in gun crimes and murders in Boston:

Stolen VT Gun Ended Boston Man’s Life

Boston criminals get some of their Guns where they also get their Maple Syrup!

It’s The Honesty Problem, Stupid!

Last Tuesday evening I watched the PBS Frontline documentary called “The Untouchables”.  According to the Frontline website, this film “examines why no Wall Street execs have been prosecuted for the financial crisis”.  I encourage citizens to view this documentary (about 54 minutes), which can be seen online.

Lanny Breuer, who is head of the DOJ Criminal Division, was interviewed by Frontline correspondent Martin Smith.  Sadly, while a large amount of evidence was collected, the prosecutions did not go forward, because according to Breuer, it is difficult to “prove” criminal intent in these types of federal cases.

Martin Smith also interviewed people who had worked as “due diligence underwriters”, who explained how they would get a laugh out of mortgage applications where the incomes claimed by the applicants seemed way out of line for their profession.  For example, this “Fraud-bomb” quote:

“… it wasn’t uncommon to see school teachers claiming salaries of $12,000 a month on their mortgage applications, or electricians moving from $500 a month in rent to homes worth $650,000.  The only problem — their supervisors didn’t seem to want to hear about it.”

“Fraud in the due diligence world, fraud was the F-word or the F-bomb,” said Tom Leonard. “You didn’t use that word”.

I won’t comment too much more about this documentary, since you can view it yourself.  To me, this documentary points out that America doesn’t just have a spending problem or a revenue problem (tax system), or a debt problem.  As a nation, we have an HONESTY problem.

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