Category Archives: Politics

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

Choice of Targets: Drones and Humor

In theory, the use of drones (UCAV or Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) allows the U.S. Military to better “target” terrorists, without the need for large quantities of ground troops and billions of dollars more of Federal Debt.  Although the use of drones sometimes succeeds, it is fraught with the possibility of “collateral damage”.  In other words, killing innocent people (like the wedding party in Yemen), either by them being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or via faulty military intelligence or targeting.  Collateral damage creates risk for “blowback”, in the form of future terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, a previously little known publication outside of France, known as Charlie Hebdo, takes potshots at terrorists, the Muslim religion, and other “targets”, including French politicians, political parties, and other religious groups or leaders.  I have not been a reader of Charlie Hebdo, so I can’t accurately describe or critique their cartoons.  But apparently, rather than choosing a specific target (a terrorist leader or organization), Charlie Hebdo instead chooses to symbolically target or depict the prophet Mohammed, from whom the Muslim faith emerged.  By doing so, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists and editors may have knowingly or unknowingly caused “collateral damage” by targeting the planet’s 1.6 billion Muslims, not to mention subsequent “blowback”.  As there are some so-called “Moderate Muslims”, and some Muslim leaders have condemned the recent murders by terrorists in France, why make the “target” too broad?  That would seem to be like dropping a nuclear joke instead of deploying a properly targeted humor drone.

I happen to enjoy reading editorial cartoons, in English and in U.S. publications.  But I don’t speak French or know much about French humor, so I can’t speak specifically about Charlie Hebdo’s style of humor.  But in reading editorial cartoons, viewing Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, or Stephen Colbert, or reading the quotes of Will Rogers or Samuel Clemens, you become aware of who the “targets” are.  The question is whether a given target was properly chosen or not.

A couple decades ago, I read the book, “Comedy Writing Secrets” by Melvin Helitzer.  I was taking an evening college course at Michigan State University on comedy, and preparing for the final class at Connxtions Comedy Club in Lansing, MI.  I read that book again in 2013, in preparation to be a contestant in the Vermont Comedy Club contest.  I didn’t win, but I am proud to say that I was probably the only contestant on that night’s event that didn’t rely on the use of the F-Bomb “crutch”, as I call it.

In Chapter Three of Helitzer’s book, “The Anatomy of Humor: The THREES Formula”, it lists these six elements of humor: Target, Hostility, Realism, Exaggeration, Emotion and Surprise.  Under the Target heading, Helitzer writes:

“Our instinctive perception is that humor is fun.  It isn’t!  Humor is criticism, cloaked as entertainment, directed at a specific target.”

The author lists four possible targets.  The first is People.  Helitzer opens that section with:

“You can’t target an entire audience any more than you can shame the entire world.”

The suggested “target” categories in Helitzer’s book are People, Places, Things and Ideas.  Under the category of Targeting Ideas, that would include the idea of “terrorism” itself.  Should Charlie Hebdo surgically target the leaders of terrorist organizations and their ideas (ideology), rather then the prophet representing all Muslims?

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Voting: Use It Or Lose It

As a member of the 45% minority of eligible Vermont citizens who actually turned out to vote on November 4th, I can sympathize with the 55% majority of no-shows; but only to a point.  Yes, the choices presented by the Democrats and Republicans for Vermont’s highest office were not very inspiring.  When Legislators reconvened to select a Governor they were presented with the same lackluster choices that Vermont citizens faced.

But voting is a “right” granted to American citizens, while not always the case in other countries.  Those that serve our nation in the military are often regarded as “defending our freedoms”, and this includes the right to vote.  Sadly, the right to vote does not always also include the right to good choices to select from.

The main point I want to convey is “Use it or lose it”.  If we don’t vote, despite the choices put forth by the Donkey and Elephant parties, we may someday no longer retain this right.  Or, if we still hang on to the right to vote, the two major political parties might someday be even less concerned about putting forth good candidates.

Since 1984, I have not missed voting in a single election.  The election of 1980 was what ingrained this habit in me.

When I graduated from high school, the voting age was 21.  When I transferred from a community college to Michigan State University in September 1979, voting was the last thing on my mind.  I was focused on my classes, navigating around a huge campus, and of course, a social life.  A short time before the 1980 election, I discovered that even though I had been a citizen of Michigan my entire life, I could not vote in East Lansing.  As my parents had not attended college, they were unaware of such local laws which prevent students from exercising their right to vote for President and state Governor.  When I first heard about an “absentee ballot”, it was too late to apply for one.  Going home on a weekday to my hometown’s government office in person was not a convenient option, but it was already too late.

At that point I was 22 years old, even though by then Congress had changed the voting age to 18.  So for the first possible election I could participate in, I was not able to vote.  Hence, since that experience, I have dutifully shown up in the voting booth, or requested an absentee ballot if necessary.

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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.

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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.