Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bernie Sanders to Rebuild Democratic Party?

I'd say the lessons of 2016 are still ambiguous at best. Everyone is clamoring to have been right in 2016 and to be certain that others acknowledge that distorted reality. 

Many competing manipulations and bad strategies were at play, including Bernie Sanders' failure to ever change his message or campaign, which led to his loss. He continues to speak about the same issues in the same way as if it would make any more difference now than it did then. That reminds me of a saying, doesn’t it to you?

That being said, Sanders does evoke emotion and camaraderie in many of today’s youth and young adult populations, not to mention the far left’s embrace of him seems to know no bounds. This too often comes at the cost of allies and respectful dialogue.

Unfortunately, some of Sanders supporters allowed themselves to become Russian agents in 2016, using manipulated leaks and fabricated innuendo to support their continued hatred and anxiety about Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, these divisions and derisive atmosphere wrapped in a fear-based, xenophobic, anxiety-provoking campaign led to the election of Trump. 

Hillary did the minimal to resolve these issues in any concerted and effective way. Her campaign became an anti-Trump campaign as much as the core of Sanders support became anti-Hillary and anti-Trump. Anti-individual campaigns aren’t beneficial for an honest discussion, nor for moving the country or a vision forward. They also have a long history of not being successful in America.

It makes little sense for a non-Democrat to rebuild the Democratic Party. He wanted to blow up the Democratic Party. Sanders was at least successful in that much.

It's no mistake that at Bernie's rally where the new DNC Chair, Tom Perez, was in attendance, that Bernie's faithful booed the DNC's new leadership. That's not a welcoming sign for the future of the party, now is it?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Paying People Looks Dangerous

Paying people what they deserve looks dangerous, but it puts money in the pockets of so many people in our community. Those people are desperate for money. They will spend all of it. 

Does anyone even know how much the CEO of Walmart and the administrative classes are awarded every year in salaries and bonuses? It's a bit much compared to the people who generate those salaries and bonuses. 

There are ways to incentivize businesses to pay their workers for hard work that does not hurt the bottom line of the business. And, in small towns and rural areas, there are ways to assist small businesses to avoid any harm to their bottom-lines as well. We don’t have to look at this as a zero sum game
+Wonderful World

The outcomes would be that everyone in those small communities would have much more money to pay their bills, afford to take care of their families, and to live a much more secure and fulfilled life because they’re working hard like they are now.

Most people focus on the number. That’s what they want you to do. That’s why a minimum wage of $15 is a bizarre policy to put forward. It makes people react emotionally because you may have worked at a McDonald’s and didn’t make $15 and hour or went to a McDonald’s and had a sad customer experience from people making $7 and hour that weren’t trained at all, weren’t managed well because of high turnover rates, and had no wage for their hard work.

+Wonderful World
Taking care of customers is hard work. It’s not impossible, but you have to be trained in how to handle people with unrealistic expectations and demands that outstrip a $1 burger, $1 fries, and a $1 large sweet tea

McDonald’s used to be the place people lauded as the gold standard in training the young in hard work in this country. The company has failed communities because they were allowed to not pay their workers fairly and the people found reasons to let them continue doing it. This has allowed them to not train employees, to manage employees effectively, and to basically not give much of a rat’s ass about the communities where they sell their products and hire workers.

I don’t know about you, but when I go into fast food joints, increasingly I see older workers inside. But hey, I’m paying attention and care about people. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We Need More Conversation and Dialogue

Today, the local paper printed one of my Letters to the Editor. I urge you to read it and ponder it here.

From my numerous conversations over the decades, I've come to understand that most of us truly believe similarly. We've just been led to believe by politicians, pundits, and the media that we're so different that we can't even respect each other.

We need real political will to hammer out real solutions that will produce real results for the American people. 

(Picture Courtesy of +Wonderful World)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Shimkus Traveling Help Desk Primer 2

These are the latest bills that Representative Shimkus has opted to co-sponsor in the this session of Congress. Go out and talk to his representatives at his Traveling Help Desks. 

He has never held a Town Hall, but claims he will meet with a handful of people face-to-face. Those meetings last 15-20 minutes.

Come on, Rep. Shimkus. Meet your constituents, address their concerns, answer their questions.

H.R. 631 - Death Tax Repeal Act of 2017

It’s just like the title suggests. However, it is not paid for . . . so this bill would increase the deficit and debt.

This is really a terrible bill for the environment, public health, farmers, and the economy.

I can understand there being some disagreements and debate being necessary regarding the inclusion of carbon dioxide and water vapor as being ‘air pollutants,’ but this bill takes reason and logic off the map.

It throws methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride off the ‘air pollutant’ list as well. Let me describe a bit about each of these chemicals.

Methane - Background on methane.

There are multiple methods to conserve methane, collect it, and reuse it. Even back in the 90s, one of my research projects was to engineer a way to collect and ultimately sell methane from landfills. This is a massive missed opportunity here in Illinois for diversifying our energy supply and for creating green jobs.

Nitrous Oxide - If you were alive in the 80s, this is one of the chemicals that leads to both smog and acid rain. Due to efforts by the EPA, the country was able to eliminate acid rain and reduce smog. By removing Nitrous Oxide from the EPA’s list of pollutants, our skies and cities will begin to look like Beijing. That reality alone will have a negative impact on the economy in America’s cities and the American heartland.

Fluorinated gases - These accounts for 2% of the greenhouse gases, but have 100 to thousands greater capacity to trap gases than methane. By taking these chemicals out of regulatory structures, it eliminates any need for creating better, more efficient equipment that doesn’t leak. That actually costs American jobs. Instead, we can anticipate buying more cheap goods from China.

This is a real slap in the face to those who desire separation of church and state. It allows churches to actively campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate and not lose their tax-exempt status. Basically, the for-profit church model could become a money-laundering/pandering scheme. Also, there is no accountability or transparency for sources of funding.

Congress applies flawed science and debunked studies to come up with a 14-point declaration on the pains of an embryos and fetuses. It basically requires all doctors to never cause pain to embryos or fetuses, yet says that both do at a certain stage of development, which is never proven. 

It also uses research involving adults and children to make the case for what happens inside the womb. The most horrifying government-forced action is to require doctors to attempt to extract the fetus alive, regardless of date of conception. This would actually precipitate the painful event that would make the procedure illegal under this act.

I would prefer women to analyze the language of the bill, since I’m just another man trying to understand this piece of disturbing legislation. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Shimkus Townhall Primer

Here’s a primer if you’re heading to see Rep. Shimkus at one of his district offices or are planning to email him. 

This is a list of the legislation he’s co-sponsored or spoke on the floor of the House during the 115th Congressional Session.
  • Shimkus co-sponsored House Joint Resolution 38. It allows coal companies and other businesses to dump chemicals into streams without EPA enforcing clean water provisions.
  • This bill became law. 

  • He also co-sponsored H.R. 354, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2017, an unconstitutional act. 

  • He also spoke on the record about H.R. 7, which defunds health plans that covers elective abortions of Federal employees, congressionally appropriated funds for abortions in D.C., and restricts elective abortions in federal prisons and through the Peace Corps. 
  • This bill already passed the House.

  • And, Shimkus also co-sponsored H.R. 548 on healthcare liability. Not sure what this is about, but it grants hospitals and emergency departments liability protection. This bill sounds a bit scary if a doctor or other medical personnel would make a grievous error that was avoidable. It would make the facility and the personnel not liable for damages. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Killing Public Schools; Analysis of H.R. 610 and The Choices in Education Act

The Replacement: Choices in Education Act
  • Makes Secretary of Education into glorified application evaluator and check writer.
  • Creates a block grant system to the states.
- This allows Secretary of Education to determine winners and losers.
  • Demands states to create voucher program.
- This allows governors and state legislatures to determine winners and losers.
  • The Secretary determines ratio of funds of block grant money distributed.
- This would severely damage undocumented children, states and local jurisdictions 
           with high undocumented children populations
  • Allows Secretary to create reallotments if state is determined ineligible for grants.
- This exposes the agenda: government wants to punish states with which it disagrees.
  • Re-distributes funds from public schools to private schools to create competition.
- This exposes the agenda: kill public schools.
  • Raises the costs of education through voucher program.
- Each private voucher includes tuition, fees, and transportation, which is higher than public education. 

- This is a direct payment from taxpayers to private businesses.

- The creation of competition by this bill coupled with the higher costs of tuition, fees, 
           and transportation will severely limit funds to public schools.
  • Increases the incentives of homeschooling as a direct payment from the government.
- This has serious limitations for the comprehensive education of students. 

- Is not taxable.

- Is not equitable.
  • Eliminates nutritional requirements in food programs.

The Repeal of Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • Any grants or contracts awarded prior to H.R. 610 would be voided. 
- This would create instability and uncertainty throughout the country. 

- Specifically, local school districts and jurisdictions awarded grant money or contracts   through the Department of Education would not know if that money would support the   
          programs currently being implemented. 

-This places undue burdens on local school districts and their taxpayers.
  • Actions to Improve Low-Performing Schools would be discontinued.
- The raising of standards and increased accountability in public education would cease. 

- These measures would be especially difficult for schools in areas of high poverty. 

- Technical assistance and capacity building assistance would end. 

- This would eliminate funds to schools and states with under-performing schools. 

- Would end assistance to build private partnerships with foundations, businesses,   community-based orgs, and other organizations to help schools improve.

- Ends compliance monitoring of schools, leading to less accountability.

  • Ends equal access to education.
  • Ends funds for professional development of teachers and staff.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Conversation with My Representative

It was a wonderful opportunity today to go to Neoga for Rep. Shimkus’ District traveling help desk. He ended up not making an appearance, but his district director was quite courteous and knowledgable. She’s been with him for 20 years. 

The majority of the time was occupied with questions and concerns about the Obamacare repeal and replace efforts in Congress. It seems that any answers from Shimkus on this are going to be highly vague. She offered these proposals: mandating people to go to a primary care physician, block grants to states for Medicaid, and high risk pools for pre-existing conditions. 

The array of voices was both conservative, liberal, young and old. I believe by the end of a roundtable on this issue the constituents felt fixing the law seemed a much preferable first line approach. The district director didn’t really respond to this. I asked specifically about taxes being part of any plan to make up the difference between the current law and any replacement. Again, she said it was too soon to really know the shape of the plan.
+Wonderful World

All of the constituents expressed dismay and frustration that after 7 years the GOP had no plan ready to go. Excuses ranged from re-districting, to GOP having offered up plans, and to Harry Reid blocking proposals in the Senate. None of these seemed to pass the smell test with me.

I asked specifically about Shimkus’ position on Sanctuary Cities and the GOP-Trump proposal to deny federal funding to these cities and in some cases states. I cited South Dakota v. Dole from 1987, a 7-2 conservative decision that used states’ rights to make this sort of federal government coercion unconstitutional. She felt that Shimkus would side with denying funds to Sanctuary Cities, but that she would bring up this states’ rights concern.
+Wonderful World

Also, we discussed Medicare and Social Security. She stated his position as follows: he will not support changing eligibility age for those currently in the system. That being said, she seemed to suggest that Shimkus strongly supported increasing income caps, as these haven’t risen for decades. There’s no reason why someone like Trump or Warren Buffett shouldn’t be paying more into the Social Security and Medicare system. 
+Wonderful World

Lastly, I brought up food insecurity in the district, citing Cumberland County’s statistics to push Shimkus to support expanding food stamps. I offered up that for every $1 spent on food stamps by the federal government $1.76 is generated in economic output. It pays for itself and helps protect families and children. The answer was to point people toward food pantries, which I countered that many times a transportation barrier exists for these families.

I’d suggest to anyone to go to these events with an open mind and listen to what is said by others and by the representative and/or their office staff. This was an amazing opportunity to begin a dialogue and learn more about where Shimkus actually stands on some key issues.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Stop Protecting Ideology; Ask More

The fact people still believe that being right is all that matters should be funny. It's actually dangerous. 

I come across Bernie supporters all the time that still believe Trump is better than Hillary. They believe in almost nothing. At least Trump supporters support something tangible, like a “Wall” or a ban, no matter how offensive it might be. 

Members of Congress are as confused as the populace. They don't have a governing principle that makes sense because the people that sent them to Congress aren’t coherent nor bipartisan. Truly, members of Congress’ governing principle is to be re-elected so they can have a chance to positively impact the future of our nation. If we believe otherwise, we’re demonizing our opposition. 

+Amazing World
I know this might be difficult to swallow, but we just had a forum here in the 110th state representative district in Illinois, and those officials and professionals that said we should talk directly to our representation were told the truth . . . rational voices don't matter to our representation and most certainly our outcomes

The rational middle doesn't speak out in enough numbers in enough places to matter. And, in addition, they don't know enough to matter. Some of the ones that speak loudly and often happen to carry 'arms' and be as irrational as they are emotional. The others gather in cities in such a way that allows a few incendiaries to negatively characterize them as violent anarchists. 

It's actually usually the opposite. The most vocal and obvious people are not indicative of others; they are simply more obvious. 
+Amazing World

We had a high turnout election here in a rural district, and the outcome was what it is. Work the data; it fails.

There is something inherently broken somewhere. It's either in the message or the messengers . . . probably, both

We know the policies of Trump and the prevailing conservatives are failures . . . this is undeniable. Yet, we communicate that ineffectively to regular people. 

How is that not on each and every one of us?

Can we really just believe we’re right and that’s all that matters? Isn’t that what the other side believes?

It's possibly because we can't communicate a positive agenda as an effective alternative that others can believe and support. 
+Amazing World

OR, we simply don't understand the inherent problem. It's not a matter of outcomes. It's actually a matter of capacity. Government doesn't have enough capacity to work properly. 

Capacity is two-fold. Resources and Approaches

Government has been starved of resources for decades. This has been the prevailing conservative approach. However, training and management have not been approached effectively during the same period. These two prevailing environments have eroded public confidence in governance and, for some, in the broader economy. 

+Amazing World
This has allowed conspiracy and duplicity to be fostered and nurtured. 

How do we move forward?

There are many within government and business that take advantage of the inefficiencies within society and people. If we don’t hold ourselves and others accountable, we cannot hope to hold the public and private systems accountable.

Both ideologies want to protect their ideology. 

This has to end. 

What we need as a society and as a country is to ask more of each other and of our elected officials. If we don’t take part in our system of government AND our communities, we cannot blame both for being broken.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump's Executive Order: Refugees and Realities

In the wake of President Trump’s Executive Order suspending visas from seven Muslim-majority countries, it appears that for some in the country, the red line has already been passed. Anyone who was listening to Trump during his campaign would not be dismayed by this nor any of his other actions thus far. 

Three individuals
fit in with the
784,000 refugees
who have not been implicated
in terrorism.
What this action has exposed is the ever deepening divides in our country. The difference between rhetoric and reality has never been so stark. Perhaps, when rhetoric hits the pavement of action and resulting consequences, some will actually learn from this experience. Chances are, however, that lessons learned will be determined by support or opposition to the Trump administration, preconceived notions, and already strident positions.

The reality of this executive action is that it took place without key secretaries of the cabinet in place, without appropriate alerts and preparations to agencies and personnel, and with little foresight to the problems that would arise fairly immediately and predictably.

The other reality is that the Obama administration had already applied increased screening and scrutiny for travel to and from these countries. Trump simply went much further. The factual reality that no terrorists have attacked America’s homeland from any of these countries is striking. This simply defies logic. 

Those realities seem to dissuade critics and supporters of this action from discussing it on the merits: legal, strategic, economic, and moral. Instead, there is a lot of posturing and definitely outrage and indignation. 

Yes, It Is a Muslim Ban.

For the Trump administration to make the claim that this is not a Muslim ban seems to be a bit of a farce. From the executive order, it tasks government agencies “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.” Considering every country included in the ban is a Muslim majority country, the intent is not just clear, it’s bloody apparent. 

+Wonderful World
The largest concern for supporters of this ban is the rash of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, which some in America have attached to the refugee crisis. Some in the media and in Washington have incorrectly applied guilt to the refugees, when this was later found out not to be the case. And, the European refugee crisis simply is not an applicable model to America, as we have no land bridge nor waterway for easy transport from the Middle East as they do.

On second read, this executive order could be used to fast-track European refugees, as those Muslims would be religious minorities in those countries. 

How Did We Arrive Here?

During the Republican primary contest, Donald Trump set himself apart from the other candidates on the issue of Muslim immigrants, taking full advantage of Islamophobia and xenophobic sentiments in the Republican base in the wake of 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. This has only further entrenched divisions on the issue.
+Wonderful World

Despite garnering much media and political establishment criticism for his positions, such as referring to Syrian refugees as a “Trojan horse,” Trump quickly rose in the polls to eventually become the Republican nominee and eventually President. He, of course, is following through on his campaign promises.

What are the Consequences?

When emotions and fears run high in America, isolationist tendencies rise as well, even when this exacerbates the problem by fueling the terrorist pipeline, at home and abroad. This is precisely what the Trump ban will accomplish by providing propaganda for our enemies, by stoking divisiveness and alarm with our own allies, and by destabilizing our own screening process. Instead of applying a precise hand to adopt a new strategy, Trump has disrupted and set our immigration and national security systems back considerably with this action.
+Wonderful World

The most necessary ally we have in our fight against terrorists in the Middle East are Muslims. Many have placed their lives and the lives of their families on the line for us with promises given to them by our military and government for safe harbor. Breaking those promises, which is what this executive order has already began to do, undermines intelligence assets and the trust that we have built with our partners throughout that region and the world.

Beyond that, by creating such an ill-conceived Muslim ban and rolling it out in such an ineffective manner, Trump has gift-wrapped propaganda to help fuel extremists around the world. By delineating such a stark, religious context to both our foreign and domestic policy, we have tossed unnecessary fuel into the fire. 

At least there are visible and rolling protests along with appeals in court that continue.  However, the executive branch has enormous latitude regarding immigration issues. Likely, any stay will be overturned, requiring Congress to act. 
+Wonderful World

The Refugee Resettlement Process

The reality that Syrian or any other such refugees are or were ever entering America without due diligence is starkly different from the hyperbolic rhetoric of the Trump administration or online media outlets.

There are serious concerns that do need to be addressed. The refugee crisis in Syria, Iraq, and across North Africa has created humanitarian crises across the region, stressed political, economic and cultural systems across Europe, and has been used by politicians and pundits for their own agenda.

However, the refugees that actually resettle in America go through a very elaborate process before even being considered.
+Wonderful World

During Obama’s tenure, Canada helped to highlight the American political paralysis by resettling over 30,000 Syrian refugees and by pledging to increase their financial assistance to the humanitarian efforts by 10%. Recently, Prime Minister Trudeau went further by pledging to accept the refugees turned away by Trump’s executive order. 

Ultimately, a 5 million Syrians will likely need to be resettled outside of Syria. However, the needs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are quite different from what is possible to achieve through the elaborate bureaucratic system in place. With an already overstressed immigrant and political situation in Europe, highlighted by both the UK’s Brexit vote and multiple terrorist attacks, the Western Hemisphere is needed to pick up the slack. 

Canada cannot be the only country to do its part, but it appears for the foreseeable future, that will have to do.
+Wonderful World

The reality is that 67% of all Syrian refugees needing resettlement are women and children. Most of those will never make it to America. First, each refugee is vetted by the UNHCR and the Department of Homeland Security travels to the site of the refugee to begin conducting interviews to determine further security risk assessments. These DHS personnel don’t assume the information given by refugees are accurate. They then send out assets to determine the validity of the information given during these preliminary interviews.

That’s only steps one, two and three. 
+Wonderful World

After roughly 18 to 24 months and in conjunction with DHS, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, and nine other nonprofits, a decision is finally reached if a refugee qualifies to be resettled in America. That would qualify as a fairly exhaustive process.

The needs of the UNHCR are staggering. That pales in comparison to the needs of the Syrian people. Of the nearly 5 million Syrian refugees, about a half million will likely need resettlement out of the region by 2018. Earlier Syrian refugees have been relocated throughout the Great Lakes region, the Northeast, Texas, Florida, and the Southwest, including both northern and southern California. 

History of the Program

Of the Iraqi and Afghanistan refugees that fled those war torn regions, only three of 784,000 were ever even arrested on terrorism charges, and two of those were only plotting terrorism. The other actually possessed explosives. 

+Wonderful World

The San Bernardino attacker was born an American citizen as was the Orlando nightclub shooter. In fact, since 9/11 there has been about 28 such domestic terrorism attacks in America and no successful foreign attacks. That would qualify as fairly significant success in thwarting foreign attacks, with zero attacks coming from refugee populations.

However, an examination of the overall jihadists arrested within America since 9/11 shows a slightly different picture. When the total of 12 refugees arrested as jihadists on terrorism charges is compared to the 346 American, non-refugee citizens that were arrested on similar charges, the real terrorist threat appears to be primarily homegrown.

+Wonderful World
Citizens and politicians have legitimate concerns regarding the costs of refugee resettlement within America. Many refugees eventually payback the cost of travel to America, only receive a $1,000 stipend for three months after arrival, required to apply for jobs, and are not tracked by the government. On the ground nonprofit organizations help these refugees find work, find housing, and help them acclimate to their new communities. 

There are both economic benefits to refugee resettlement and distributional consequences. Refugees are often not skilled and, thus, often procure lower skilled, lower wage jobs. This is great for employers that hire low skill workers because it increases the pool of workers they can hire. This can have the consequence of depressing wage growth. 

+Wonderful World
Also, if the refugees aren’t buoyed enough by nonprofits, family and other community support, they can rely more heavily on social services as they transition into the American economy. However, successfully transitioned refugees often end up benefitting the tax base much more than they may have used these services initially to afford education, food, housing, and  healthcare. These afforded them the opportunity for gaining skills for higher wage jobs, more spendable income, and potential entrepreneurship, all of which increase their share of taxes.
What other steps can be taken that aren’t already being implemented? That seems to be wholly absent from this executive order. 

Realistically, this executive order is mostly window-dressing made to fulfill campaign promises. It’s not just careless, it’s without purpose and an objective that is neither achievable and not already functioning under the previous system. It is either designed to or through accident alone to create chaos, disruption, and insecurity. The only tangibles America has garnered from Trump’s action is a decrease in national security and a buoy for the terrorists and their propaganda.