2016 Politics

2016 candidates

Boomers are confused and angry. Millennials are angry. Younger folks are pretty much living their lives as young folks always have, but they aren’t happy.  So what’s going on in the US and in the world today?  Can it be fixed?  I’m going to ramble a bit here…

I have a retired history teacher friend who constantly amazes me with bits of history that I didn’t know.  I took the required history courses in school, of course, but (a) they are all taught from the state’s point of view and (b) we didn’t get told the whole story.  History, as it was taught to me anyway, wasn’t very interesting, and that’s a problem.  Reading, writing, STEM classes, athletics, and the arts are all important.  We aren’t ‘human’ without all of them.

Still… as George Santayana (among others) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And Kurt Vonnegut, who I love dearly, responded in Bluebeard: “We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.”  While Vonnegut’s rant is a bit harsh (that’s his style), he makes a good point.  Kids do figure out that situations repeat and they adapt to the world.  The more situations we are exposed to, the richer our experience of the world and our ability to predict how a new situation will play out.  And that’s one reason why a lot of travel before age 30, say, is such a good thing.

Ok.  The US political system has pretty much been a two party system from its inception.  The names of the parties may change, but there are two major political parties.  More than that is a problem.  Yes, we have fringe parties and candidates now and then, but they have no chance of being elected.  They can only take votes away from the two main parties.  That’s history, folks.  So the line you’ve heard about “throwing your vote away” is, unfortunately, true regarding third party candidates.

Personally, I like Bernie Sanders.  I like him; I trust him; I like what he stands for; I like his solid record of standing on his principles.  But Bernie will not be one of the two candidates the major parties put forward.  On the Republican side we see a what appears to be a buffoon named Trump whose claim to fame is manipulating people into investing in commercial schemes, draining cash for his own gain, and then taking the companies bankrupt, transferring his investors’ cash to his own pocket as well as cheating his employees and vendors.  The man has exhibited bigotry, misogyny, and dishonesty in so many ways it is a wonder how any American can take him seriously.  I do not understand his appeal.  On the Democratic side we have an experienced female candidate, Hillary Clinton, who has demonstrated a career-long commitment to improving the lot of all people, particularly women and children.  Unfortunately, anyone who has been in the public eye for a long time will have a history which can be twisted and spun to the opposition’s advantage.  That’s politics.  It amazes me that Hillary’s peccadillos are shouted louder than Trump’s perversities.

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” —Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was a Russian immigrant to the US when he was three years old, so he was effectively as American, culturally, as any of us.  He grew up seeing our foibles and our strengths.  His writings thoroughly demonstrate his observations about human nature as seen in the USA.  His quote, above, describes the Trump supporters as I observe them.  Ignorance is always scary because it encourages people to do things which others (with more experience and/or education) know will lead to no good.

The only thing which encourages me to believe we’ll pull through this election is an observation by Winston Churchill that “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”  I hope to God that we’ll do the right thing this time.  On the other hand, Britain is a bit crazy now, as is much of the world.  How did we all wind up where we are today?

It seems to me that, after World War II, the world pulled together to rebuild the developed countries.  The United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and scientific progress throughout the world were all pulling together to make a more productive, peaceful, and better life for humanity.  Nothing is perfect and not everybody benefited equally from progress, but as a whole things went well for many years.  Then we get to the more recent years when the US pursued military objectives in the Middle East leading to huge economic deficits at home, hatred and revenge by the persecuted population of the Middle East, and an overall downward trend in the quality of life in the US.  Bill Clinton pulled the US out of a huge deficit and possibly Hillary Clinton might finish the job Obama started to right our economy from the $1.4 trillion George W. Bush deficit.  Obama reduced the deficit by over $1 trillion.  That’s pretty amazing since he was saddled with an opposition controlled Congress which refused to address the country’s economic and social issues.  History, by the way, demonstrates that the US stock market (and the economy in general) does better under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.  A rising tide really does lift all boats.

While I am not a deeply religious person, I was raised as a Catholic and understand something of the Bible and Christianity.  I cannot help noticing that all the world’s great religions share common themes of “treat others the way you would like to be treated” and “help those who need help.”  Not only do the great religions share those principles, in times when and where those principles prevail, everybody (yes, everybody) seems to have a better life.  There is a reason these principles have been promulgated for thousands of years:  they work to the best advantage of the largest number of people.

I have to make a politically incorrect statement now.  When I look for reasons why things have fallen apart in more recent years, I look at the difference between how the boomers were raised and how more recent generations are being raised.  If mom has to work to provide enough money for the family to survive, mom is not at home raising the children and transmitting cultural values to those children.  The cultural values being pushed in recent times have been the violence and intolerance of movies, TV, and video games.  We humans are very visual animals, so these are powerful transmission vehicles.

So I blame a rising cost of living, rising expectations to own technology, and salaries that do not keep pace with those costs.  I blame CEOs who for decades have hired consultants to justify boosting their compensation packages.  Now CEOs are paid obscene amounts of money.  The middle class of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s has disappeared.  Mom has to work.  Kids do not receive the guidance and attention that earlier generations received from their families.  But kids do learn.  Now kids learn from commercial sources with a profit motivation.  There is no effort to instill moral and ethical values on the cable networks.  Heck, you don’t even find a fair treatment of world news in today’s media.  Intolerance is presented as a religious value and it goes downhill from there.  If you read people’s thoughts online, which I do occasionally to see what’s in the public marketplace of ideas, you will also see the follow up comments from people who read those thoughts.  Some of those comments are thoughtful and reasoned.  Some are angry, illogical, and come from a different planet than I have known.

The US would appear to need another Democratic administration.  Therefore, I’m voting for Hillary.  No US elected official is chosen without the support of the people who control and manipulate our economic system.  The Koch Brothers’ Tea Party cost them a lot, but it is pretty much dead at this point.  (Isn’t it?  It’s so hard to tell what’s really going on.)  The Tea Party’s influence continues among those most susceptible to its claims and stories.  That influence seems to have delivered people to Donald Trump.  How and why any woman or any halfway intelligent person would support Trump is a complete mystery to me.  I don’t understand what possible appeal he has to anyone who knows anything about his history.  He may belong behind bars, but surely not running for president of the United States.

I wish Hillary were more likeable.  I will vote for her and I believe she will do a good job.  I just don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about her.  I’m a bit suspicious of her relationship with Wall Street but hope for the best.  We shall see.

My Experience With a Police Stop

I just put this up on Twitter and thought I’d share it here as well.  This was an experience that left a profound impression on me many years ago.  We are all just seconds away from disaster, at least that’s been my conclusion.

My ex-husband went to work for Digital Equipment Corp. fresh out of college because they promised a draft deferment.  DEC blew it, so he joined the National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam.  I picked him up at Logan Airport once during his training, and on the way home in our Pinto we were stopped by Stow, MA police. We had a rear light that wasn’t working, we found out later.  Two cops came toward our car with guns drawn.  Scariest moment of my life.  It made no sense.  We weren’t even speeding.  By the way, we’re white and the cops were white but badly trained.  As a country we have to train our police better than this.  We don’t want to see our law enforcement people injured, but things have ratcheted up to a horrible level.  I figured we were lucky to survive back then.

gun control



The World is Different Now from Then

My last post here was November of 2011.  Ouch.  On February 25, 2013 my friend jan finder died of cancer.  That rather dampened my interest in writing more blog posts that would push his writing back a bit.  Time has passed and I’m feeling a need to write something longer than 140 characters again.

My little New England town had its town meeting last Monday and will have its next town election on Saturday, May 17th of 2014.  This is the spring season for lawn signs extolling the names of local candidates for school committee, selectman, town clerk, and other elected positions.  The candidates and their supporters are very vocal.  Conversations about supporting one candidate or another are mostly emotional with no factual content.  Being somebody who can be swayed with a well presented fact or two, I never cease to be amazed at how people do (or don’t in most cases) vote.

The divisiveness of the two national parties is mirrored locally.  As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.”  That phrase means more to me as the years go by.  All politics is emotional.  Local and emotional go together.  We care about local.  Locally “party” means less than the individual positions taken and results delivered.  Still, it’s no surprise that our local elections heat up as much as they do.  The same mudslinging and behind the scenes manipulation would appear to function on all political/human interaction levels.  

As a side note, the reason marketing holds my interest is that it involves psychology and biology.  Conveying a message and having somebody else accept it requires either an incredible instinct for human nature or a studied, systematic approach to presentation.  (I’m not working on the best, most persuasive way to present this information.  I’m just ruminating.)  I’m fascinated by the state of American politics today.  It is no different than it ever was, I suppose.  It’s about power, control, money and sex.  At least nobody has been shot or run through with a sword in the Congressional halls in recent years.

There are multiple types of intelligence if you buy into  Howard Gardner’s model in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  One of those types of intelligence is interpersonal.  The folks who score high in that area are considered charismatic and are often leaders.  Of course, they can also be good scam artists, but we’ll let that go for the moment.  Or not.  Again, the human appeal is emotional.  That’s what drives us.  It’s interesting to think we are electing people with interpersonal intelligence but possibly not as much intellectual ability as we might prefer.

This is on my mind because recent conversations with people I like and respect are sometimes strange.  People can hold strong negative convictions about elected officials who I have never known to be anything but kind, honest, hardworking, and competent.  How good people can come to opposite emotional convictions is fascinating.  Facts are gathered or made up or stretched, perhaps, to coincide with an emotional position.  I’ve heard people make strong claims about politicians from local up through the POTUS where there isn’t a single measurable fact to be found.  Just a feeling on somebody’s part that “these people” are (insert negative term of your choice).

In my town I’ve observed that the most powerful voting block is the parents of school age children.  They appear at town meetings where a school department article is to be voted, they vote, then they leave.  When I was younger I was less interested in being active in politics because my time was committed to my job and my family.  As the family matures, you and your significant other may feel a pull to become more politically active.  (Or not!)  You have the time to volunteer and the experience which is valuable to town committees and boards.  At different ages, our interest in, and time for, political activity changes.  So why were young people so politically active in the 60’s and 70’s?  How about because the Vietnam War focused the attention of a whole generation on survival?  We fight for what’s important to us.  I had hoped that more would come of the Occupy movement in view of the serious threat the mishandling of the American financial industry was causing worldwide.  But it was not to be.

So.  Is it age and time availability or self interest or a mix of the two that make us politically active?  Some 40 years ago more than one third of all workers in the US private sector were unionized and in 2014 less than 7% belong to a union.  History tells us that unionization generally involves broken bones, blood in the street, and the use of words like goons and scabs.  Labor is always at a physical disadvantage… until it isn’t.  Why we don’t see more unionization today I do not understand.  Leadership is not exactly encouraged in the 99% by the 1% which control the US economy.  Why are all the good people in this country allowing the financial system, healthcare, manufacturing, the environment, and heaven knows what else… to deteriorate?

I keep coming back to income inequality as a root of our differences and our problems.  Yes, people have a right to be rich.  And, as the Bible says, “The poor are always with  us.”  But there’s a matter of degree today which seems unsustainable in a healthy society.  I’ve always been a fan of Bill Joy, a tech giant from years ago.  I can’t find the quote, but he was talking to a reporter once about all the money he made from Sun Microsystems, and he pointed out that he plays hockey so now and then he buys a $15 hockey stick, but other than that he doesn’t need much.  Living in Silicon Valley has never been cheap, but I appreciated his point that money, after a certain level, isn’t buying you a better life.  The 1% in the US are living a gilded, privileged life, but they could live that same life on 10% or less of the pile of cash they can access.  So the vast wealth of this nation is really sitting idle when it could be driving a better quality of life for more people.

The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.  It has changed dramatically every few decades over the history of the human race, too, so my point here is about looking forward to what kind of world we want to leave to posterity.  I believe Americans should  not face a life burdened with heavy debt to pay for their education.  I believe that a certain level of healthcare is a right.  I believe people should be able to do, think, and say whatever they like as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.  I believe we can learn from Europe that dense cities surrounded by agricultural land with public transportation between cities is a good thing.  Eating up our agricultural land with suburban housing developments has been a poor decision.  And I believe that the wealthiest people in the country are more than welcome to 20 to 50 times what the poorest people have, but not 300 to 1000 times.  By freeing more people from physical and economic stress we can have a more productive, peaceful, creative and happy world.  Isn’t that what we claim this country is about?  It isn’t about giving people a guaranteed plush existence, it’s about giving people an opportunity to earn their living, making the most of their skills in service to their community.  Isn’t that what this country is about?  Or is it about “I’ve got mine,” and that’s pretty much the end of it, which I see too much of today.

Just ruminating.  Wondering how we got where we are today and whether it is possible to improve the lot of people as a whole in this world.



Guest blog: “If We Were Emperor!” by jan howard “wombat” finder

Jan Howard Finder died February 26, 2013.  He will be remembered and missed by many people around the world.  I’m proud to say jan was a friend and will leave this entry here as a reminder of his character and convictions.

This is a first for my little blog.  A friend of mine, jan howard finder, wanted to post this piece online and I volunteered to host it on my WordPress blog.  Mind you I did offer to set him up with his own WordPress blog, but here we are.  The topic is how to get the US moving again economically.  I’ll have a comment at the end, but for the moment, here’s jan:

If We Were Emperor!

by jan howard “wombat” finder

[“If We were Emperor” is the style I am using in order to frame my opinions.   I do not advocate the overthrow of the current US government or the Constitution.]

There are several things We would do in order to get the country and economy back on track:


  1. Repeal the two big tax cuts instituted by President Bush, in 2001 and in 2003.
  2. Stimulus plan:  A cheque for $5,000 to everyone who has filed a 1040-based tax return in 2011.  [Assuming 150 million taxpayers, corporations NOT included, this would cost $750 Billion.] This would put the money into the hands of those who would give a boost to the economy, the consumers, by buying durable goods, paying down mortgages, etc. It would do what The President Bush said we should do, just after Sept 11, “go out and spend money”; it was said to individuals, not to corporations.
  3. Boost for Lower and Middle-classes:  Raise the personal deduction to $7,500, indexed to the Cost of Living.
  4. Cap the amount of taxable deduction for interest on home mortgages to $25,000 to $50,000 per year.  The interest cap could be indexed to the Cost of Living Index for that area.
  5. Cap other governmental agencies at current spending levels for 5 years.


  1. Grants: We would expand grants to students attending accredited institutions of higher education.
  2. Loans: Students would pay off the Federally Funded Student Loans either: (a)    by paying a percentage of  their GROSS income, 1%, 2%, or other suitable percentage. This allows graduates to accept a lower paying job of their choice rather than be forced to accept a job that will not advance their careers.  (b)   or a standard loan agreement over 10 years at the Prime Rate plus 1%, payment to start one year after graduation.
  3. Tuition Rebates: We would set up tuition rebates for students in Mathematics, Sciences, and Engineering at accredited institutions of higher education who achieve a cumulative 3.5 GPA or better by the end of their 3rd academic year.  The rebate would be up to $10,000 or $20,000 in tuition rebates for the 3rd and 4th academic years.  This tuition rebate would also apply to Graduate Students.


  1. Energy Production: Accelerated depreciation [5 years on a plant designed to last 40 years.] on the Capital Costs of creating non-fossil fuel energy production assets, e.g., Wind turbines, Photovoltaic cells, Solar Updraft Towers, Hydrothermal plants, etc.
  2. Equipment Installation: 100% deduction, depreciated over 3 years, for equipment and installation of alternate energy producing units by individuals and businesses in the tax year of installation.


  1. Increase Federal gas tax: Add a10 cent a gallon increase in the Federal tax on petroleum products with the money going to maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure. NO NEW CONSTRUCTION! The Federal tax is earmarked for existing roads and bridges. We would add up to 10 cents every year for 5 years.  Each one cent [0.01] increase brings in about $1 billion dollars in revenue.  This is equivalent about 25,000 new jobs.  Each new job will bring in about 2 or 3 additional jobs into the market.  The 10 cent a gallon or equivalent increase in the Federal tax on petroleum products could result in approximately 500, 000 and 1 million new jobs.
  2. State gas tax fund: Require states to put state gasoline taxes into a separate fund, to be spent on roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. Most state gasoline taxes go into the General Fund and never get spent on infrastructure.
  3. State funding: All states would be required to spend, not allocate, a minimum of 90% of the previous year’s road transportation budget or lose ALL Federal DoT funding the following year.
  4. The cost of the increase in the tax is about $48 a year to the motorist who drives 12,000 miles a year and gets 25 mpg.  If one drives less and or has a more fuel efficient vehicle, the cost would be less.  What is the cost of a new tire, wheel alignment, wheel balancing, shock absorber, ball joints, etc.? The US’s poor infrastructure costs motorists $67 Billion a year.  [Taken from an ad by Audi.]

Social Security:

Raise the taxable limit for Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax to $250,000.  Increase this to $500,000 24 months after the previous increase.

Currently, someone who earns $102,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who earns $250,000 pays 6.2% on the first $102,000, and pays 0% on the remaining $148,000.  Someone who makes $500,000 pays 6.2% of the first $102,000, and 0% on the remaining $398,000.

The first change would mean:  Someone who earns $250,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who makes $500,000 pays 6.2% of the first $250,000, and 0% on the remaining $250,000.

6.2% of that $148,000 is significant. When the limit moves to $500,000:  Someone who earns $500,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who makes $750,000 pays 6.2% of the first $500,000, and 0% on the remaining $250,000.

If someone currently making $102,000 or less can pay 6.2% of their income to FICA, certainly someone making $250,000 or more can manage.


  1. Medicare/Medicaid: All Medicare, Medicaid, etc., payments would be frozen at current levels for 5 years.
  2. Health Insurance:  Any US citizen would be allowed to sign up for The Federal Employees Health Benefits [FEHB] plan, the plan that is available to all federal government  employees. (It’s the same one members of Congress use.)  This would be a “Public Option.”  The Federal Government would pay approximate 75% of the premium and the individual-family would pay the other 25%.  The insured would be free to choose any of the several private insurance plans in the insured’s area: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, or in my case for example, the Capital District Physician’s Health Plan [CDPHP].  I get to choose my doctors [I easily switched urologists recently]. 

Department of Defense

  1. A 5% across the board increase in pay and benefits for all Military Service personnel.  They don’t get anywhere near what they deserve.
  2. The DoD budget would be frozen for 5 years.  While research would be encouraged, development would be limited to proof of concept prototypes.
  3. DARPA would be encouraged to expand  its challenge programs: Set standards and let private inventors meet the challenge.  Sort of small X-Prize offer.
  4. Decrease the DoD budget, potentially 5% a year or more, for 5 years:
    1. by evaluating the necessity of building expensive equipment simply because it’s “new”, when existing equipment is more than adequate for current and near-future projections of enemy capabilities (we’re not fighting the Soviets any more);
    2. by evaluating the necessity of building more of the expensive equipment that no longer meets the operational needs against current and near-future enemies (how many aircraft carriers do we need to fight, or support fights, in small towns in the Middle East?);
    3. and by bringing our service personnel and materiel back home. The ability to mobilize quickly, to transport personnel and materiel needed for quick strike missions, no longer requires the tremendous expenditures of overseas bases.


We would set up a series of Federally funded X-Prizes in areas of  need, i.e., energy, space exploration, engineering challenges.  The money would go to the winning teams, not to the institutions for whom they may work.  X-prize funds are not paid out until the established goals are met!

[This is my opinion.  I encourage you to write your own screed.]


This is Mary again. It’s an interesting proposal. I think an open debate would probably not decrease the DoD budget, most of which goes to pensions, as I understand it. And if we want to encourage R&D, in my humble opinion we need to invest in it, not offer prizes to be awarded when the work is done, since it may never be economically possible to provide a proof of concept.  Still, lots of these things are good ideas.  Your thoughts?

While I’m on the topic, if you do a Google Images search for “jan howard finder” you will find lots of photos from Science Fiction conventions and other places which are the natural habitat for wombats. The lower case spelling is traditional for jan, although they have it wrong on Wikipedia. But then they didn’t mention jan as fan guest of honor at a Sci-Fi convention in Metz, France, either… when Robert Bloch was the guest of honor… or lots of other things, so maybe he’ll write a memoir!