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Posts Tagged ‘America’

Hillary Clinton: Policy Wonk and Reluctant Revolutionary

November 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Reagans with the Clintons.jpg

RT was 26 when this photograph was taken; Ronald Reagan was 76; Nancy Reagan, 65; Bill Clinton, 40; Hillary Clinton, 39. Wikipedia reports: In 1900, non-Hispanic whites comprised almost 97% of the population of the 10 largest American cities. By 2006, non-Hispanic whites had dwindled to a minority in 35 of the nation’s 50 largest cities. In 2000, the U.S. population stood at 281 million; today, it is estimated to be 324 million (a 15% increase). In 1990, 86% of the U.S. population was Christian; that figure has since dropped to 70%. Finally, the Pew Research Center reports that the purchasing power of American workers has remained essentially unchanged since 1964.

Certainly a lot to think about, and that is one of the reasons that RT supports Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s presidential election. The country is in the middle of a sweeping transformation that has generated deep-seated panic and anger among Americans. What is needed at a moment like this is clear thinking.

Of course, at some level, the United States has always been about change, hopefully in the form of progress, though our country’s history demonstrates that that can take its own sweet time. Something new is struggling to be born, but that is always the case.

Look hard at the usual answers. Don’t just create jobs, create prosperity. Don’t build a wall, create a just and generous guest worker program. Work to make sure that taxes pay for necessary services that individual states and private foundations, however wealthy, simply can’t afford to fund. Above all, work to create mutual understanding and cooperation, i.e., plain old goodwill. That is challenge and achievement enough.

We are all federalists, we are all republicans, as Thomas Jefferson once put it. If the other party’s candidate gets elected, exercise your right to protest, to have your grievances and opinions heard. But also do your best to hear and respond to the legitimate worries and priorities of the other side.

And by the way, RT urges everyone to vote. Take the day off, if you have to. Elections, after all, are important.

RT thinks that Hillary Clinton is by far the better candidate. Her abilities and achievements speak for themselves. But if Donald Trump should win on Tuesday, he will not go running to the post office to get a passport application. RT believes in the system, with all its flaws and failures. It has given us our first black president, and, he thinks, it will soon give us the first woman in the oval office. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. 

PhotoPresident Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton attending the Dinner Honoring the Nation’s Governors. 22 February 1987. Reagan Library Archives. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

Martinsburg, the 14th Amendment, and Election Day 2014

November 4, 2014 Leave a comment

RT has had a busy morning running errands and putting together lunch for himself and his mother, but the tofu scramble was a hit, and the fudge bar for dessert was a bigger hit. Now it’s time to go downtown to see what he can do at Democratic Headquarters. But first, a few thoughts.

There is something mysterious about the U.S. constitution and elections in this country. Part of that mystery derives, RT thinks, from the first section of the 14th amendment to the constitution:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

RT thinks that “the equal protection of the laws” amounts to a perpetual, albeit slow moving, social revolution. As the decades have passed, “a woman’s place is in the house,” Jim Crow, and now the ban on gay marriage have all yielded to it. But of course this is confusing: nowhere does the constitution mention social revolution, but the attempt to create a society where all citizens are equal before the law (and not just in this country) may be the greatest such revolution ever undertaken.

And now the other part of the mystery: on election day, people cast their ballots in secret and, without having to explain themselves to anyone, sometimes overturn the counsels and predictions of the mighty. RT hopes that this election day will be one such moment.

And need RT remind his fellow citizens (and especially Democrats): by all means, get out and vote! (and if at all possible, volunteer to help).

Photo: Detailed View of Inclined Column and Support Brackets, Martinsburg Roundhouse. WikiCmns; Library of Congress. Public Domain.

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Issues, Issues: West Virginia, 2014

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

RT has been canvassing for a local candidate for the West Virginia legislature, Kris Loken, who is running for the WV House of Delegates 62nd district seat. An organized, focused, and determined lady, Ms. Loken served in the U.S. diplomatic corps for 27 years, and has been actively involved in local causes since her arrival in the state some years back. RT thinks she would make a great delegate.

Canvassing has been an eye-opening experience for RT, bringing him as it does into contact with a wide range of people and life stories. In particular, it has made him think carefully about what policies and approaches, other than the rather limited (though important) suggestions on the burner right now, would help WV climb out of the difficult spot it finds itself in.

What ails West Virginia is a syndrome hard to diagnose. Some problems,  nonetheless, are easy to identify:

1) Demand for coal, WV’s leading export, has recently plummeted. In 2013, the value of state coal exports fell 40%, from $7.4 to $4.4 billion. And this in spite of the fact that WV coal contains about 50% more energy than coal from Wyoming, which today is the United State’s leading producer of coal. The problem? WV coal is high in sulfur dioxide and costs more to extract–the easily reachable deposits have all been mined.

2) Wages in West Virginia continue to fall. Historically, the best paying jobs in the state have been in manufacturing, chemicals, and mining. Employment in all these sectors has fallen dramatically for decades, while the number of low paying service sector jobs has increased. Unionization has also declined, and the result of these changes has been a significant drop in worker income.

3) Young workers, educated in West Virginia, continue to leave the state in large numbers. With college tuition, as throughout the country, increasing dramatically in West Virginia, young workers often leave the state looking for better-paying jobs, if for no other reason than to pay off their student loans.

The debate continues over what to do about these changes, but seems, in RT’s opinion, to be bogged down in details, which, while important, do not give us overall goals for West Virginia. What is lacking is a sense of direction or momentum. No big picture solutions are being offered. RT offers a few suggestions:

1) Take advantage of the resources already available in the state. Leaders will often talk of the West Virginia’s coal and natural gas resources, but no so often of its human resources. If, as seems apparent to RT, workers in the state tend to show mechanical genius, a trait possibly left over from the glory days of manufacturing and railroads, then why not encourage the use of these skills? Why have glass manufacturing and pottery production, once big employers, been allowed to languish?

2) Encourage small businesses in West Virginia. Small businesses generate jobs, and their expenditures and profits remain within the state.

But starting a small business is no small feat: these days, a prospective small business owner must have excellent credit to obtain a start-up loan, and the extra hours and devotion to producing a high-quality service can easily exhaust the owners; finally, there are the paperwork requirements and local taxes.

The solution, as far as RT can see, is the creation of small business zones, areas that remove some of these barriers to economic development. These zones would offer not just tax breaks for businesses less than three years old, but also reduce monthly state, county, and municipal paperwork to a single document no longer than four pages and provide customized help from the state employment agency in finding appropriate staff.

RT recommends implementing this program in the Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling, Beckley, and Martinsburg areas.

3) Legalize recreational marijuana. In 2011, PBS ranked West Virginia as one of the biggest marijuana producing states in the country. Legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in West Virginia–or at least legalize its medical use. And while we’re at it, let’s legalize hemp and its many uses.

hmmm…RT can see that while this post looks at some important issues, it doesn’t really offer a glimpse of what the overall direction West Virginia should be going in…a big topic for his next post.

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Want to help West Virginia Democrats? Here are a couple of links:

West Virginia Democratic Party

Berkeley County Democratic Party

Photo: Saturday Afternoon Street Scene, Welch, McDowell County, WV, 1946. Russell Lee. WikiCmns. NARA – 541004. Public Domain.

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A Judicial Revolt, A Midnight Dose of Liberty

File:Samesex marriage in USA.svg

Anyone who thinks that the U.S. states have lost most of their power or that the U.S. cultural landscape isn’t complicated should peruse the above map. RT continues to be boggled by the progress of gay rights in the U.S., but the most recent overturnings of state law regarding gay marriage has gotten him up at nearly midnight to editorialize on the situation. But after considering this map, RT is beginning to think that more may be going on than several wild-eyed federal judges striking blows in the name of justice.

Michigan’s ruling brings to nine, count ’em, nine, states that have had either their bans on same-sex marriage or their bans on recognition of other-state gay marriage overturned. What is even more astounding is that a near-majority of the U.S. population now supports gay marriage, up from 25 percent in 1996. Polls in Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, and Arizona indicate majority support in those states! These are not locales known for their liberal political stance.

Nineteen U.S. states now recognize gay marriage; the first state to legalize it, Massachusetts, did so ten years ago. And RT recollects the avalanche of state bans on gay marriage that buried much of the country back in the 1990s.

The ten-year anniversary is probably pertinent: Massachusetts has yet to slide off into the ocean. And as is the case with the Affordable Care Act, we are just looking at the first phase of this struggle (and the implicit acceptance of the sexuality spectrum). Polygamy and group marriage are waiting for their day in court. The very foundation of civilization for the last four millennia, patriarchy, is crumbling (and for some, being reaffirmed).

Somewhere, in a hell that may no longer be so dusty, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are smiling.

And what about hash brownies? (RT himself will abstain; his meds have worked pretty well for him all these years).

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MapLegal status of same-sex partnership in the United States; author: Lokal_Profil. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.

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Legend:
Navy Blue: Marriage for same-sex couples fully recognized;
Blue: Domestic partnerships or civil unions granting privileges similar to marriage for same-sex domestic partners;
Sky Blue: Limited/enumerated privileges granted by state;
Dark Grey: Same-sex marriages performed elsewhere recognized;
Light Grey: No prohibition or recognition of same-sex marriages or unions in territory law;
Gold: Judicial ruling against a same-sex marriage ban stayed pending appeal;
Pink: Law banning same-sex marriage;
Bright Red: Constitution and law banning same-sex marriage; and
Maroon: Constitution and law banning same-sex marriage and specified or unspecified civil union types.

 

The Navajo Reservation–Facts & a Few Reflections

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

File:Navajo Nation Council Chambers 6809.jpg

When he was 12 or 13, as part of a boarding school expedition, RT visited the Hopi reservation in Arizona. After all these years, he still remembers the marvelous pueblos on their mesas and the Kachina dolls for sale at the visitor’s center. The land in northern Arizona is indescribably beautiful.

To get to the HR, you might already know, you have to drive through the Navajo reservation, which completely surrounds it. Unfortunately, RT never got to visit the Navajo reservation, but it has cropped up, very possibly by some sort of fate or other, in his recent net surfing. Why devote one or more posts to the Navajo? For one thing, the NR is the largest in the nation. The stats are as follows: land area, 17,425 sq. mi. (71,000 sq. km.); population, 173,987; economic resources, ranching and extensive mineral resources, some of which, for environmental reasons, are no longer exploited (and the Navajo are also beginning to implement wind farming), and casino gambling, as of 2004. The seat of government and capital is Window Rock, AZ. And one more important fact: the Navajo call themselves Diné.

File:DineBikeyahBe'elyaigii.svg

Map of the Navajo Reservation

To help put the geographical and demographic data in perspective, the NR is larger than eight American states (it’s also bigger than Denmark). Looking at things slightly differently, were the NR a state, it would have by far the smallest population–the current holder of that distinction is Wyoming at 582,658 people.

On the other hand, despite its large size, the NR faces much the same problems in its dealings with the outside world as do other reservations. To wit: although a legal nation, the Navajo people must submit all proposed laws to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for review. In practice, most disputes between the Navajo and the U.S. government are settled by negotiation. The legal relationship between Indian reservations and individual U.S. states is decided by federal courts, which have consistently ruled in favor of the reservations, upholding, for instance, the right of Indians to hunt and fish on their lands irrespective of state legislation. As one might imagine, there have been many disputes between individual states and the reservations over the years.

In fact, one could claim that the reservation system constitutes a second tier of internal division with the United States, similar to, but distinct from, the 50 states. One difference is that the reservations send no representatives to Congress. Or at least, that is, directly. American Indians are citizens not only of their reservation, but also of their U.S. state and the United States, and as such vote for state legislatures and the Congress. But the reservations themselves have no representation either at the state or federal level.

You could say that, after all, Indian citizens pay federal taxes and serve in the U.S. military, and are therefore entitled to the same representation as any other U.S. citizen. (And surely mention must be made of the brave and sometimes unique service that Indians have offered as soldiers, for instance, the improved encryption that the Indian Code TalkersNavajo among them–provided during WWII.)

On the other hand, the American Indian’s status as members of the First Nation, the original inhabitants of the continent, and thus the only American community that had to make way for everyone else (and often in not very nice ways) argues that they are entitled to either some sort of compensation or else a special voice in U.S. affairs. One way to express this special connection might be to include a non-voting Indian representative in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

While on this topic, RT recommends reading up on the abortive Indian state of Sequoyah, which was located in present-day Oklahoma.

On the health front, the Navajo, like other Indian tribes, continue to struggle with the devastating health and social effects of alcoholism (and this in spite of long-standing ban on alcohol sales in the NR). Diabetes is another major health concern, as are suicide and deaths from pneumonia, tuberculosis, and influenza. Homicide and suicide rates are significantly higher than in the United States as a whole.

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OK, so what about the positive side of the ledger? What has been getting better on the NR?

1) RT will start by pointing the reader to the Navajo Times web site, a professional and informative resource.

2) Next, RT recommends visiting the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Indian Housing Improvement Program page. In existence since 1921, HIP is intended to work in conjunction with other federal housing programs, and targets Indian homelessness and substandard housing. RT can only ask: Shouldn’t this program be duplicated in other impoverished areas, starting with Appalachia?

3) Indian education has become a priority. Created in 2011 by executive order, the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education aims to close the gap between Indian and statewide scores on academic achievement tests. 

4) Education in Diné (the Navajo language) is getting better. Check out the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education. Over 150 public, private and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools serve Navajo students from kindergarten through high school. Diné College, established in 1968 as the first Indian Community College, has an enrollment of 1,830 students.

5) RT has learned of one Diné citizen who is an Arizona state senator. RT’s rapid inventory of information on the net indicates that at least five American Indians have been elected a U.S. Senator, and another eight, U.S. representatives, one of whom served five terms in the House.

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There is more, much more, to be learned about the status of American Indians. The questions surrounding these nations-within-a-nation are nothing if not complex. So doubtless RT will be revisiting this important topic. (And the Dragons of Grammar have expressed an interest in learning Diné!).

RT recommends that readers check out the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs web site. This agency of the Department of the Interior has been charged with overseeing federal-Indian nation relations since 1824.

Before closing out this post, RT will let fly a final barb: why not create a cabinet-level Department of Indian Affairs? This will consolidate all Indian programs under a single roof and signal that America takes its obligations to the continent’s first inhabitants seriously. One might argue that this would be in flagrant disregard of the sovereignty of the Indian peoples, but RT figures that this government-government relationship is unique anyway, and if a DIA would improve quality of life for American Indians and warm up Anglo-Indian relations, why not?

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Photo: Navajo Nation Council Chambers, Window Rock, AZ. Author: William Nakai. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.

Map: Navajo Reservation. Author: Seb az86556. CC 3.0 Unported.

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Osage Chief

February 5, 2014 2 comments

File:Little osages.jpg

Politics is the art of the possible. This old rubric takes on special intensity when we consider how to undo, to the extent possible, the damage to the native peoples done by the arrival and expansion of the European peoples in North America. Surely patience and goodwill (of the extraordinary kind) are required.

RT ran across this superb portrait of an Osage Indian Chief while doing research on the history and status of Indian reservations. He offers it here as a tribute to the pride, beauty, and native gift of America’s first inhabitants.

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Portrait: Chief of the Little Osages; bust-length, profile showing hair style. (c. 1807) Artist: Charles B.J. de Saint-Memin. WikiCmns; Library of Congress. Public Domain.

State of the Unions. 2014

January 29, 2014 5 comments

File:Global European Union.svg

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RT never could resist a puzzle. But life is life, and during, say, the last 15 years, he hasn’t had much time for puzzling things out, so he has confined himself to just a few puzzles, among them putting Gilgamesh to verse and figuring out what a world government might look like. For better or worse, if it’s smaller than a world, it doesn’t interest him.

Take, for instance, President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. Devoted readers will remember that RT thinks that Obama is about the best thing that’s happened to American politics since, well, it’s hard to say. FDR’s election, maybe? The censure of Joseph McCarthy? Something like that. And RT will  say that he thought that last night’s SOU was yet another example of Obama’s gift for public speaking. As for content, as far as RT is concerned, if all Obama does in his last years of office is get America trundling along the road to immigration reform, he will have done more good in office than all but a handful of the Oval Office’s best occupants.

And now, thanks to European ingenuity and harsh historical memories stretching back 100 years, America has a control population to check its political progress against: the European Union.

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Ah, fellow Americans loyally picking apples on family farms, just what might this creature, the EU, be? The short answer is: a new political structure struggling to be born. As such, its institutions lack the simplicity and grandeur of those specified in the American constitution, but they do reveal the guts of a bureaucracy and legislative process in a most helpful, if somewhat complicated, way. Consider the following chart:

File:Political System of the European Union.svg

What the heck is that? you’ll be wondering. What does it mean for constitutional law, not to mention history and the well-being of the EU’s 508 million citizens and 28 member states? The beauty of the answer is that no one knows yet. But RT is willing to wager that the EU is good news for Europe, and even for America’s purple mountains’ majesty (RIP, Pete Seeger, though actually Katherine Lee Bates wrote the poem that the unofficial American national anthem, “America the Beautiful,” is based on.).

Let’s look at the EU’s structure in terms of the familiar American political system. The EU has:

1) a bicameral legislature, composed of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Note these differences from the American system: while the EP is directly elected by EU citizens every five years, the CEU consists of one minister from each member state, with the council’s presidency rotating among states every six months (and the actual ministers switch depending on which subject (e.g., agriculture) is being discussed).

2) a collective presidency, the European Council, consisting of the heads of state from all the member nations. The EC is charged with determining the EU’s priorities and overall direction. Without formal powers, it nonetheless exercises considerable influence over the EU’s political agenda.

3) a judiciary, the Court of Justice of the European Union, charged with ensuring that the treaties that underlie the EU are observed.

4) a bill of rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (adopted 2009).

5) a central bank, the European Central Bank, which issues a common currency, the Euro. Please note that several member states, including the United Kingdom and Poland, have not adopted the Euro.

6) a graduated division of powers between the EU and its member states. The EU treaties create a spectrum of authority, with the EU responsible for items such as financial and commercial policy, enjoying priority of responsibility in others (e.g., the internal market), sharing responsibility in still others (e.g., technological development and humanitarian aid), and playing a support role in areas such as industry and disaster prevention.

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This is just a quick overview of what seems to be an evolving and in some ways difficult political reality–the EU at this point is no longer an economic union but not yet a political federation. If RT could single out a specific feature of the EU system for praise, it would be the detailed, graduated sharing of power between the union and its member states. When one considers the either/or situation created by the American constitution, where the federal government has de facto priority over the 50 states, leaving individual states to champion important improvements (e.g., the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage). Of course, in this situation, the federal government can be the one on the right side of an issue (as during, most famously, the civil war). But then, come to think of it, there’s the mediating power of the judiciary to consider…

And it’s also worth noting that a trend seems to developing in the EU’s division of powers: the EU is taking responsibility for the more scientific and economic powers, leaving the members states with more individual matters such as culture and language (and dare RT say it, poetry!) To be sure, the division is hardly exact, and reflects a developing thread in RT’s thought, the genius of place.

The EU drama is not played out, RT surmises, and the ongoing story of the struggle to create a peaceful and just Europe will continue to fascinate us on the other side of the pond.   RT

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Map Projection: The European Union (2014). Author: S. Solberg J. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported. EU Chart: Political System of the European Union. Author: 111Alleskönner. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Share Alike Germany.

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