Category Archives: USA

All 50 States, even the ones without snow.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear … are Fear-Mongers

With all the sad news of terrorist attacks in Lebanon, France and Mali, the multi-faceted wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and refugees fleeing Syria and other nations, I can’t help but think of the people living in the crossfire of war and terrorism.  I can’t help but cringe hearing or reading the words of politicians running for President; fear-mongering for personal and political gain (i.e. the Iowa and New Hampshire polls).

I am reminded of my mother’s side of the family, who came to the U.S. after World War II.  I would not be here otherwise, if my mother, siblings and parents had not come to America in 1946.  They came to the United States after living under Nazi occupation in northern Italy, and living under the Mussolini regime.

Using the logic of some politicians these days, my mother’s family would have been labeled as Nazi’s or Fascists, just because of where they came from, and who was in power at that time.

They were just working people of little means who lived in and survived the crossfire of war.  Their region was bombed by U.S. warplanes.  Nearby Lucca was hit hard, and churches were bombed.

They were sponsored by a relative who came to the U.S. in 1938 before the war.  They left behind many other relatives.  Today, our extended family is spread across two continents and four countries.

While there are many, many good and decent Italian families who came to United States, a few bad apple Mafia families were also let into our country as well.  I’m sure Donald Trump and Chris Christie are aware of them being in their region.  A fictional TV show was made about some of them (The Sopranos).

There are a few bad apples from every country.  We have a few here as well…  I am more afraid of Four-Pinnochio Politicians like Donald Trump than I am of innocent people fleeing the crossfire of war.

We should not fall into the trap of “fear-mongers”, who want to divide and conquer peoples for their own personal or political gain.

By the way, in addition to the Japanese internment camps in World War II, there was also internment of Italian Americans during WWII.  This is a lesser known fact about WWII.  I only recently learned this from the PBS documentary, “The Italian Americans”.  Coincidentally, that documentary aired the same week that Rudy Giuliani made his comments questioning President Obama’s patriotism.  Rudy Giuliani said:

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said during the dinner at the 21 Club, a former Prohibition-era speakeasy in midtown Manhattan. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

I wonder if Rudy Giuliani was aware of how Italians were interned during WWII when he made those comments?

Today, Italy and America are again allies and NATO Partners.  Same thing goes for Germany.  Japan is also an ally and trading partner.  Vietnam is now a trading partner.

The world is a lot more complicated then the simple-minded sound bytes from a few fear-mongering politicians.

Our politicians keep telling us that “entitlement” programs like Social Security is going to go bust.  There are not enough people working today to cover the retirees.  Well, many Syrian people are educated (doctors and engineers), and many are entrepreneurs (merchants).

Let’s properly vet those refugees seeking to come to America, and “welcome” them after they pass successfully through the security screens.  Like other immigrants before, like those in my family, they can more safely raise their families, and help build a better country and economy here in America.

Bernie: Run for President of All Fifty States

Senator Bernie Sanders is currently running as the lone challenger to Hillary Clinton for President.  Now that Bernie is running as a Democrat, I would like to suggest some ideas.  While Bernie runs for the Democratic nomination, he doesn’t have to follow the same old primary path of past Democratic candidates, especially in the run up to the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary.

First, run for President of All Fifty States!  While the primary schedule still starts with Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, there are 47 other states where working Americans live.  Bernie has already made trips to other states, and I hope that continues.  Iowa and New Hampshire voters are nice folks, but their demographic makeup doesn’t represents America.

Travel between Iowa and New Hampshire alone can be costly and time consuming.  But with the Internet and social media, I’m sure Bernie will reach out to voters in other states.

Don’t forget the non-Swing States.  For years, the folks in non-Swing States have been ignored.  If a Presidential candidate suddenly paid attention to them, it might result in more engagement by those voters: donations, volunteerism and votes.  Bernie needs those voters on Super Tuesday and other primaries.

Second, don’t kowtow to the “First in the Nation” status of Iowa and New Hampshire.  Don’t kowtow to their media pundits and political leaders.

True story: One morning in late 2007 on “The Exchange” radio program with host Laura Kinoy on NHPR, the guest was Presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd.  Laura Kinoy asked Sen. Dodd: “I understand that you are on the ballot in Michigan?

Senator Dodd’s response to Kinoy’s question was a blatant pander to New Hampshire voters.  First he declared that “He” (his campaign) did not put himself on the ballot.  Rather, there were some “people in Michigan” who passed around a petition.

Next, Chris Dodd stated, “I can assure you that I have not been talking with ‘those people’, out in Michigan”.  He also made sure he mentioned that he supported New Hampshire’s “First in the Nation” status.  Being a native of Michigan (one of “those people”), I wasn’t very thrilled by his comments.

So, when Bernie is interviewed by Laura Kinoy, if she asks about their “First in the Nation” status, I hope that Bernie will smile and respond with, “I am running to be President of All Fifty States”.  If pressed further, he can say that’s a decision for the political parties, and he’s just following the 2016 schedule.

Third, if time permits, I hope that Bernie will occasionally cross the borders of Iowa to talk with folks in neighboring states.  If it upsets the Iowa media, he can just smile and say, “I am running to be President of All Fifty States”.

If you look at the county-level 2012 election map, you can see a large group of “blue” counties in eastern Iowa.  Across the border in southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois is a large swath of blue territory.  So spend the morning in Iowa and the afternoon in Minnesota.  Or spend the day in Iowa and the evening in Illinois.  Wouldn’t it be fun to see Bernie visiting Madison, Wisconsin at the same time Gov. Scott Walker is in Iowa?

Over near western Iowa are Clay County in South Dakota and Thurston County in Nebraska.  Despite their small populations, they are two blue islands in a sea of red.  If Bernie were to visit Little Priest Tribal College or Nebraska Indian Community College, how might folks in other Native American tribes react?  Wow, a Presidential candidate actually paying attention to Native Americans.  With cell phone video, who knows, such a town hall event could go viral!

Fourth, bring the “Bernie Town Hall” format to other states.  I have attended two of Sen. Sander’s town hall events in Vermont.  At both events, there was a light meal for participants before Bernie’s remarks and Q&A session.

Why not have Bernie Town Halls with a light meal in Iowa and neighboring states?  If the campaign does not want to spend a lot of money on food, perhaps a potluck event would work.  This could be a great platform to talk about local food and building up our rural economy.  This might go against the grain in Iowa and Monsanto’s GMO Empire.  But I’m sure there are small organic farmers in Iowa who could be supported by the Sanders 2016 campaign for town hall events, in lieu of spending money on TV and radio ads.

Fifth, go long!  Remember when Tim Pawlenty put all of his eggs in the neighboring Iowa basket and dropped out early?  So, also focus on the primaries in the other Fifty States, ahead of time.

Senator Sanders can run in the Democratic Presidential Primary, but he doesn’t have to run like a typical Democrat.  I’m sure he already knows this.

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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Standardized Tests for Politicians and Candidates

Recently, I read Peter Berger’s op-ed in, “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!

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.