Black Lives Matter or do they?

Do black lives matter?  I do have a few African American colleagues and friends. Their lives certainly matter to me.   I used to work for Ronnie Italiano at Clifton Music on Saturdays.  He put on oldies shows and through him I met quite a few singers from the 50s, almost all of whom were African American.  Their lives mattered to me and when I read of the demise of one of them now, I do shed a tear (at least silently).

There is an organization called  ‘Black Lives Matter’.  It isn’t interested in aging singers, nor is it about my neighbors.  It is about ordinary urban Black people, almost all male, who have been killed by the cops.  I do agree with the organization.  Police brutality is a real problem.  Even if the final shot may be justified, the number of people killed by the police is a scandal.  We kill far more people than any country in Europe.   There must be a better way.

Still I don’t always care.  BLM picks odd poster children.  Michael Brown was a large young man who seemed to think he could strong arm people because of his size.   I don’t think I would have wanted him in my neighborhood.   Let’s take Christian Taylor in Arlington.   He should have been alive, but I would have hoped he would have spent 5-10 years in prison.  He was exactly the reason why urban areas are on the decline.

I wish BLM would sometimes worry about the mess created by their poster children.

Posted in politics | Comments Off on Black Lives Matter or do they?

Bernie Sanders

One wonders what to make of someone like Bernie Sanders.   His platform is basically 1960s liberalism adapted to a different era.   The US was a confident nation in the 1960s.  It could go to the Moon, it could end poverty, it could offer health care to the elderly and the poor.  In the 1960s most people felt a wealthy USA could afford to do all these things and it felt it had the know-how.

In the end we missed a few goals.  Elder destitution was ended and if you were the right generation and middle class, you might live pretty well.   We didn’t do so well with poverty in general.   By the mid 1960s, our advantage over Europe and Asia was starting to end.

Bernie Sanders’s message today is  about income inequality which has ballooned in 40 years.  Unlike the early 60s, message, it isn’t a positive message about fixing what is hurting the few.  It is a message aimed at a large percentage of Americans.

The problem for Sanders is that he is old,  he will be 75 at the next election; he is also Jewish, and the US has never elected a Jewish president.  He doesn’t click with minorities.  It is early in the campaign, but Sanders’ minority support is low, perhaps 25%, and now groups like ‘Black Lives Matter’ have been disrupting his appearances.

I hope that he can pull Hillary to the left.  If he does that it may all be worth it.

Posted in election issues, politics | Comments Off on Bernie Sanders

Getting older away from home

No matter where I live, New Jersey, especially the part nearest NYC, will always be my home. I lived there from birth until age 52.  My conception of the world starts with NJ.  The culture I am most familiar with in that of Northern NJ.  Some years ago, when I spent my workdays  away from home, I started watching the TV show ‘The Sopranos’ in the hotel rooms I was staying in.  I enjoy crime stories, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.  ‘The Sopranos’ is an Italian centric view of NJ.   The characters reminded me of the people I knew when I worked at Clifton Music.  The locales were familiar to me.  I never knew I would miss them when I lived in NJ.   The expression ‘you never miss the water until the well runs dry’, fits me to a ‘T’.

I am sure that I have always had a sentimental streak, but that streak has gotten stronger as I have gotten older.   Being in Minnesota doesn’t always help.  The media often wax nostalgic about some local institution that is closing, but none of those institutions have any meaning to me.   Just a few days ago I saw an article about closed subway station.  I haven’t been to all of them, but I was at the 18th St. IRT station.   At this point in my life I don’t know anyone who has even been on a subway.  I realized I might never go there again.  I almost cried.

Posted in Personal | Comments Off on Getting older away from home

Peace with Iran?

I don’t think anyone whose mind hasn’t been  burned out from too many stimulants thinks we have reached peace with Iran.  Most of us remember the old Soviet Union and some of us remember a time before we had an agreements with the Soviet Union.  That was a very dangerous era, one in which the US was close to a real war.   We went from the Cuban Missile Crisis to a test ban treaty in about a year.  There is nothing like a real scare to teach people what is important.

Today we don’t have a direct fear of attack, but we have a simmering conflict that might turn into a war.  Iran seems to have been developing nuclear weapons.  The US wants them to stop and UN imposed sanctions have been in effect since 2006.  That embargo has served to increase oil prices.  As of this morning an agreement has been reached that depends on whether Congress can veto it.  Congress has 60 days to approve of reject it.  The Israelis reject it.  Their lobbyists are trying to get enough votes to win.  Most Americans forget that Iran has real issues with the US.  We overthrew their government in the early 1950s and we shot down an Iranian passenger plane in 1988.

The US isn’t ready for war and war.   The Israelis seem to want to attack Iran, but the US doesn’t have any rational reasons to agree.   We need to remember that US foreign policy isn’t Israeli.  Our Iraq adventure was a failure as was our Afghan.  We need to pull back from the middle east and turn down the heat.

Posted in politics, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Peace with Iran?

Hillary or Bernie?

Who should the Democrats pick to run in 2016, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?   Its quite a long time from now until the nomination is completed, but I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t think that Hillary Clinton is the stronger candidate.  Sanders is older and anyone who remember the end of the Reagan administration would be wary of picking someone that old for president.   I only wish that we had someone younger than Hillary.   She is about the same age that Reagan was when he ran, so that doesn’t bode well.  Unless the Republicans nominate someone like Mitt Romney, they will make an issue of Hillary’s age, though they might have to find a way of not mentioning Saint Ronnie when they do it.  Sanders is Jewish and even if he is a Senator from Vermont, he still sounds like a New Yorker.  New Yorkers don’t do well when running for national office.  Remember Rudi Giuliani?  I doubt most voters will like what they see when they hear Bernie speak.  Still he is pushing Hillary to the left and that is a good thing.

I have recently looked at Hillary’s website and I haven’t found anything that I disagree with. Still it is very early and what she is saying now may not even be campaign issues in a year.  Again I wish we had someone else to run, but we are stuck with who we have today.


Posted in politics, Presidential campaign | Comments Off on Hillary or Bernie?

Why I am not a conservative pt 2

I know I am conflating conservatism with the Republican party, but ever since the old Democratic Southern segregationists died off and were replaced by Republicans, the Democrats have had very few conservatives.  In the same way the Republican liberals of the past have mostly died out and there are few moderates left at least at the national level(there are opportunists like Chris Christie but that is another story).

It is hard for people to remember today but before Ronald Reagan, the Republicans didn’t campaign on ideology.  Eisenhower was a conservative in the old sense, he believed in the institutions which raised him and wanted to preserve them and see the prosper.  He accepted the changes of the New Deal along with the changes brought about by the war.  He supported NATO (which a few big name Republicans of the time did not).  He understood the need to be ready to go to war, even if he did not want to go to war.  The post war army was going to be a big one and that meant we were going to have an expanded government.  The GI Bill of Rights meant that a lot of tax money was going to pay for the education of the newly civilian war veterans.  That was another expansion of government.

The modern GOP has become the party of big business in ways that it simply wasn’t in the past.  I would ask anyone to read the  1956 GOP platform

The Federal minimum wage has been raised for more than 2 million workers. Social Security has been extended to an additional 10 million workers and the benefits raised for 6 1/2 million.

I doubt anyone can imagine that being on the next platform.  In those days American businesses sold products made by Americans and they understood that fairly paid workers could live comfortably. (The same platform talks about tax cuts, also done by the Eisenhower administration.)  It isn’t a panacea and it isn’t free of fancy rhetoric, but that GOP expected to appeal to a broad segment of society, not just the comfortable upper middle class.

Today’s GOP is only about business and nothing else.  There are no solutions to economic  problems except to suggest more tax cuts.

Posted in Personal, politics | Comments Off on Why I am not a conservative pt 2

Why I am not a conservative pt. 1

I count myself among the Liberals today, even if that term is ill-defined and used more as an insult than anything else.   Some people have brought back the old term ‘progressive’,  which is not much different in today’s political universe.  I have listened to tortured arguments on Cspan2 as to why one set of personalities are ‘good’ progressives and others are bad ‘liberals’ but the distinctions between the elude me.  Since both operate within the Democratic party, it just doesn’t make a difference.

In 1964 I was a teenage fan of Barry and Bill in 1964, and sometime later my twin brother and I subscribed to National Review.  In the Catholic world I lived in virtually all the people I knew would have been counted among the conservatives.   Most of my friends read Ayn Rand and thought of her approach as eminently correct.  I despised the anti-war movement, even if I never supported the war with any fervor.  My first vote for president was for Richard Nixon, so I considered myself a Republican  and a conservative.

Adulthood changed my point of view.   In 1977 I started to work for the US Census Bureau and began to see how life was lived in places like Newark and Jersey City.   I began to see how government worked.   For example, I saw that our highway programs favored new developments in the suburbs, when the urban areas were the ones that needed sensible redevelopment not just highways that cut them apart.

I stopped thinking of myself as a Republican when Reagan ran for president.  He was Hollywood actor who was good at saying soothing things; I felt he was a phony. Still politicians are always a bit phony.  It was Reagan’s response to environmental issues the sealed the deal for me.   The Republican party was always the party most interested in conservation (how many tenement dwellers expected to visit Yellowstone in the 1920s?)  starting with the first national parks not soon after the Civil War and going on through the administration of Teddy Roosevelt.  Even though Western interests opposed some of it, the Eastern money was always behind conservation. Reagan’s people changed the center of gravity in the party and the old conservation movement was out and the modern environmental movement was to be blocked in any manner possible.

Since Reagan the only measure of what is important for the GOP is whether or not it is good for business, with no consideration of whether what is good for business is good for the American people.   Our most best know companies, such as Apple, are great a creating jobs, in China, but we don’t live in China.

Posted in Personal, politics | Comments Off on Why I am not a conservative pt. 1

Election losses

The election on November 4th, was a disaster for the Democrats, even if with a Democratic Senate, they weren’t able to pass much legislation anyway.  It was a disaster because it shows the continuing weakness of the Democratic party.   They cannot win off year elections because their voters don’t come out.  One can blame the Republicans for lying but if you followed the campaign commercials both parties run fact free commercials.

The Democrats don’t know how to appeal to the average independent voter.  They don’t run on their successes.  The Social Security program was a success and is a success.  They seem to have swallowed the conservative narrative that we must cut back by increasing the retirement age and slowly turn the program into a means tested welfare program for the elderly.  Medicare is another success, rather than the botched ACA, Medicare should have been used as a model for a national healthcare system.  Instead they try to defend the president’s handling of the various wars in the middle east or to defend the roll out of the healthcare program last year.  Both can be defended but one cannot imagine this tactic winning.

The message of the GOP for the last 35 years has been tax cuts.  That program has starved our governments of money needed for existing programs.  Our highway system is a joke.  In the past decade they have added support for permanent war and an intrusive internal security apparatus.  Even the US Chamber of Commerce wants to increase taxes to pay for roads. Yet the Democrats have run away from any discussion of our infrastructure.   If you won’t defend your past and won’t talk up current important issues where you have an advantage you probably don’t deserve to win.

Posted in politics | Comments Off on Election losses

Making a mess.

It is easy to make a mess and harder to clean it up.  Do you think WWII ended in 1945?  If you are German probably not.

When I was a teenager and quite conservative politically, one constant theme was that the US could have stopped the Soviets from controlling Eastern Europe.  With the signing of the peace treaties ending WWII, those in power decided to let Europe be split into 2 parts, they never explained whether they knew that the Soviets would install friendly governments in all the Eastern European countries, but they did little to stop it.   In 1948 the Soviets decided to make a power play in Berlin and to stop Western truck traffic (which supplied the Western sections of Berlin).    This finally moved the US and the UK to action in what became known as the Berlin Airlift.  The success of that airlift let Stalin know that we would use power to make sure that he would not expand any farther.  Forty years passed before the Soviet control of Eastern Europe ended and Germany was re-united.   While many still think of VE Day as the end of the war in Europe, the residue of that war only ended in North Eastern Europe when the Soviet bloc was dissolved.

Let’s move to the Iraq war.  We started it in 2003, the Army was quickly defeated and the government deposed.  Over the next year the Sunni insurgency started.  The US tried to suppress it and showed some success, but that all unraveled under the Maliki government.

Today we see the US expanding its action in Iraq.  We are bombing ISIS targets and supposedly we will be training Arab soldiers.  All of this is supposedly because ISIS is a threat to the US.   ISIS cannot defeat Assad’s army in Syria, so it is not a direct threat to the US.  The video showing several hostages are alarming, but in a real sense they aren’t anything new.  Foreign born extremists have been a factor in Iraq ever since George W. Bush decided to shock and awe the Iraqis into submission.  Most of those extremists have come from the Arab world and many have been paid for by money from wealthy Arabs.  Osama bin Laden was not a son of a poor family.

ISIS would be very easy to defeat militarily and even more so if we used the same tactics that worked so well in Germany (hint collateral damage was even more a part of WWII than it is today).  The reason ISIS will not be defeated is that nobody in the region is willing to make those compromises necessary for peace.   The Iranians created a sectarian government that the Sunnis hated. The Sunni Arab neighbors donated money to help Sunni Iraqis kill their Shiite neighbors.  The US may have created a mess but the Sunnis and Shiites have kept pouring gasoline on the fire for 10 years.   Until the Saudi Imams stop calling Shiites heretics this will not end.  The Iranians aren’t quite as nasty (they don’t blow up Sunni mosques), but they didn’t realize the need to build a real coalition with the Sunni tribes.

In the end the split of Europe into Eastern and Western blocs was the right thing to do, even if it wasn’t a pleasant thing to do.  I don’t have any idea of what will work in Iraq but bombing isn’t the solution and aiding the ‘good’ Sunni militants in Syria isn’t going to help.

Posted in Iraq War, military, politics | Comments Off on Making a mess.

Thoughts About Education Reform

Education reform has become a buzzword, that is a word that is devoid of content.  At age 62 I have heard talk about our failing schools all my life.  After the Sputnik launch,  there was a mad rush to improve science and technology training in US schools.  Lots of science books and gadgets were rushed to market (or existing products promoted as being ‘educational’).  That was a nice fad if you were a young boy interested in everything from dinosaurs to exploding stars.  During my lifetime there have been numerous fads from the new math to phonics.  Today’s latest fad is educational choice (aka vouchers).

In 1983, the Reagan administration issued a report called ‘A Nation At Risk’.  It claimed that the US educational system was failing to produce the people a competitive workforce needed. Since that report education reform has become a hot topic in Republican circles, after all the silly liberals controlled the education system and this report claimed they made a hash of it.  Naturally public employees (that is teachers) and their unions were blamed as the cause of poor education.

The first question one should ask is whether schools are failing.  Education historian Diane Ravitch says no and has recently published a book on the subject called ‘Reign of Error’ .  If on can summarize her conclusions I would say it claims US schools are not failing  and where they are perceived as failing it is in areas of high poverty.  She also says that the US has never done particularly well on international tests and it is not doing any worse now than it had done in the past. She also points out that there is no connection between the condition of the economy and the results of international test. Germany does relatively poorly for example.  She goes into great detail but I think my summary is fair.

Still there are good reasons to wonder if education could not be improved.  We have had a technology revolution in the last 50 years and there is a feeling the schools aren’t using technology to the fullest.  One needs to learn how to tell the difference between fancy ideas and real solutions.

The Cato Institute is probably the most extreme among major conservative players. Their message has been to completely privatize education. With the fall of communism central planning was discredited therefore they assume the solution is to allow markets to create better schools: .   This simple discussion ignores the fact that the market can only decide among options, it doesn’t create those options.  Unlike a market for transportation that  has moved from horse carts to cars in 100 years, there isn’t any existing education market at least not at the elementary and high school level.

Still one cannot watch education expenses grow over the last few generations and not wonder if something cannot be done, but they current popular approaches, such as buying Ipads for schools are simply stabs in the dark.   There is a general GOP effort to attach public employee unions as a way of lowering employee cost.  There is not doubt that can lower costs but there is no proof it won’t hurt quality.

There are ideas out there, such as moving much instruction to web based learning while having the flesh and blood teacher address the more needy students.  There is some possibility that it might work but it hasn’t been well tested.

In an era when many of the most strident critics of American education think that we do not teach students enough in school it may be impossible to both improve the content while reducing cost.





Posted in Economic policy, education, politics, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Thoughts About Education Reform