Tuesday, April 4, 2017

It's not the so-called President - it's us, stupid!

To put it succinctly; the problem is not that the so-called President is a serial liar and seemingly has little ability to discern fact from fantasy and seems to believe his own lies; or that he has bragged about sexually assaulting women and indeed that a number of women have accused him of doing what he has bragged about; or he is the most conflicted President ever elected with business interests that could directly profit based on the decisions he makes in office;  or that he has promoted false racist memes; or has promoted religious bigotry in the name of national security or some kind of religious entitlement; or has been willing to make health care unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans for the sake of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans; or seems to embrace or admire murderous autocrats around the world while criticizing and insulting trusted allies; or displays little intention of studying the important policy issues of the day or being informed of the real state of the world and how his own government works; and has an over-sized ego that has become the textbook definition of a kind of pathological egomania.  No, the real problem is that he was elected President, albeit via an election game that makes no logical sense and only superficially resembles a democratic process.

No, the real problem is that as many people voted for him as they did.  The fact that he received around 46% of the popular vote is the problem.  And that is the problem that needs solving.

Without the ability to read people's minds, as if the minds of many persons were actually coherent and readable, we can at best only speculate as to the reasons why a person would vote for someone like the so-called President.

If you were to ask someone of they would willingly and happily vote for a sexual assaulter, most would say "no."

If you asked a voter if they would vote for someone who repeatedly lied, had numerous conflicts of interest, would threaten the existence of their own health care, promoted racist ideas, targeted religious minorities, and did not want to do the difficult policy work of being President, an overwhelming majority would say "hell, no!"  But as it turned out, 46.1% of those who voted did vote for someone as just described.  How come?

My educated guess is that there are four overriding reasons:

1) Some people actually are OK with lying, sexism, racism, etc.  These are good attributes for them.  This is what a real leader is expected to do for some people.

2) Some people willing to overlook these obvious contemptible attributes in the hopes of some policy action that would personally benefit them, such as a tax cut for the wealthy.  This is selfishness in my book.

3) Others are simply incoherent.  They have drunk the Kool-Aid and are fans of the so-called President and can either rationalize away his incontestable faults or choose to not believe they are real.  As the so-called President has said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."  Well, he might lose some voters, but definitely he would not lose all of them.  Go to http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/23/politics/donald-trump-shoot-somebody-support/  .

4) Some actually thought that the alternative choice for President was worse.  Some people actually believed that Secretary Clinton had conspired to kill various persons, see http://www.snopes.com/politics/clintons/bodycount.asp .  Some truly believed that she lied about Benghazi. Go see the Snopes web site:  http://www.snopes.com/?s=benghazi for objective info. Some people believed that the conflicts of interest due to the Clinton foundation were worse than the conflicts of the eventual so-called President despite the Clintons releasing numerous past tax returns and the so-called President releasing none.  Go to https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=16680 and https://www.charitywatch.org/ratings-and-metrics/bill-hillary-chelsea-clinton-foundation/478 and https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=16764 .  The Clintons made no money via their charity, did much good work and no evidence of policy influence has ever been evidenced.  Most of the bad things people believe about the Clintons can be classified as fake news, spin and mammoth exaggeration.  This is not a 100% right wing fringe problem - it turns out that many Bernie Sanders supporters were targeted by a disinformation campaign designed to discourage them for voting for Secretary Clinton. It worked.  Go see:  http://www.salon.com/2017/03/31/fake-news-websites-targeted-trump-bernie-sanders-supporters-to-spread-conspiracy-theories/  .

It is the last category where the most possible work needs to be done.  I am not talking about rehabilitating the image of the Clintons - I am talking about combating fake news and the inability of too many persons - enough to swing elections - to be influenced by fake news and their inability to discern between fact and obvious lies.

The work begins with promoting reason, evidence and skepticism while exposing irrationality, blind faith and  cynicism.  That is a topic for another day.

Monday, March 27, 2017

New CD about to be released by UniversalDice featuring Gerry Dantone!

It has been about 12 years since I last released a CD with my band UniversalDice but a new CD is imminent.  In fact, it actually physically exists as we speak but is still in the process of being distributed to the many digital outlets that would include iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify and so on.  They should all have the CD and the individual tracks available for download in about a month which would mean by the end of April 2017.

For those who are unaware, I have been writing songs since the late 1970s, which makes me an old songwriter.  Typically songwriters peak in their 20s and 30s but I like to think I'm as good as ever if not quite as prolific as in the past.  I also know that objectivity and self-awareness is nearly impossible in this kind of thing so one just can't worry about such things.  If I'm past my prime as a writer and musician, I'll probably be the last to know.

Since I have a month before I can promote and actually sell the new CDs on the various music websites, I'd like to reflect on my past CDs, songwriting efforts and thoughts about songwriting and music in general.

My first viable song came after writing about 30 or 40 truly non-viable songs!  Those first 30 or 40 songs were chaotic, disorganized, poorly structured and the product of a immature mind, even though I was in my 20s at the time.  I do not believe that this is an uncommon phenomenon among writers; who is mature at age 30?  Or 40?  Or even 70?

Many of us, or even most of us, never really obtain a real grasp on reality, life and that favorite topic of songwriters, love.  These are incredibly deep philosophical areas, and most of us, including and maybe especially songwriters are typically operating in a fantasy world.  We are typically clueless.  But when we hear a love song that is authentic, it does catch our attention.  When we hear a lyric that has a deeper meaning than we are used to hearing, it may actually make a difference to the listener.  For well known examples, think of a great love song such as "Here, There and Everywhere."  Or a song with rich philosophical overtones such as "Eleanor Rigby."  This is genius.  I'm sure you have your own ideas about what songs mean something special to you.

In any case what I'd like to do while waiting for the CD to get distributed and be made available is write about the previous CDs which are still available on line via download or physical CD.

The first CD was a rock opera that explored the loss of faith.  The first tune which was the CD title song is "My Name is Thomas..." and is somewhat unique for its subject matter - a questioning of faith,  "Religiously correct" it was not in 1998.

Have a listen: 

The confrontation with one's faith is not a universal confrontation; many never question their faith, they simply accept it without deep examination.  Many never confront the actual plausibility of faith itself.  Many simply accept faith as a virtue without considering that they consider the faith of many others to be wrong, demonic and evil.  Yet faith itself somehow remains a virtue!

The character singing "My Name is Thomas..." is a priest - who has come to have doubts.  This song is the beginning of his journey.  I hope you have a chance to listen.

Thanks!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A New Music Manifesto: Humanist Music - A declaration of principles

Although I have almost no ability to draw, paint or sculpt, I do appreciate art and often visit art museums with the family.  One of things that I have noticed is that I appreciate a wide variety of art ranging from artistic styles as disparate as classical to the surreal and the many genres in-between.  I am not a fan of the many specific genres of art; I like "good" art and don't appreciate "bad" art.  The specific genre is not that important to me.  (What is "good" art and what is "bad" art?  We'll get to that later...)

No, I am an not a visual artist, but I am (or pretend to be) a musician, or at least I identify as a musician in part, having written two rock operas, and having performed on stage numerous times over the years.  But one thing I have noticed is that while there are numerous art manifestos that attempt to define what art is "supposed" to be, in contrast there are few, if any, music manifestos that attempt to define musical art.  I'm going to rectify that in my own small way.

Humanist Music - A  Declaration of Principles

1) Humanist music is music that is not bounded by any musical condition except for one; it sounds "good."  If you want to make Humanist music, make it sound good.  Music that sounds "bad" is not  Humanist music although it may serve some other purpose.

2) Additionally, Humanist music should not cause harm or lessen the well being of those who hear it or are affected by it.  Optimally, it should increase well being.  Music that serves as a call to an action that would lead to misery or promotes ideas that one could reasonably conclude would lead to misery is most certainly not Humanist music.

Defining what is good and bad in music may seem impossibly subjective.  I certainly cannot offer the exact parameters that can be used to measure definitively whether a given piece of music is good or bad, but it is apparent that there is often wide consensus on what good music is and wide consensus on what is not.  Do not underestimate the collective genius of humanity when it comes to coming to an objective value judgment based on consensus.  I would venture the opinion that it is clear that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is "good" and that "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas, is "not good".  (To be sure, there are a number of quite good Black Eyed Peas tunes; "My Humps" was not one of them, and they stopped performing it in 2011 because of their own lack of belief in the song.)

Good music stands the test of time; it crosses cultural boundaries and age groups.  It appeals even to those who may not be familiar with that style of music.  The reach and expanse of what I am calling humanist music can be incredibly wide stylistically.  Classical music, raga, reggae, blues, jazz, rap and rock are all eligible.  Does a particular work sound  good; does it harm well being or lift us up?  That is all you need to ask.

That is why India's Ravi Shankar, America's Louis Armstrong, England's Beatles, Europe's Mozart, and Jamaica's Bob Marley, as a handful of examples, can be safely described as "good."  Their appeal goes far beyond any culturalism or parochialism.  Their "goodness" is not simply a "social construct." We have not simply been conditioned to consider their music as "good."  Whether any particular piece of music by any of these artists is "humanist music" would depend on whether any message contained therein was "harmful" or not.  I might add that there is great leeway for a tune that allows for a "questionable" message if the message was appropriate from the point of view of the "character" singing the lyric and that the intent by the artist was to illuminate the listener to a certain point of view.  Sometimes it is good to know about something that is bad; expanding our knowledge of life through art is an important attribute of "'good" art.

It is clear that, by and large, humanity, generally, has an innate sense of what sounds good an what does not and it has decided that "Fur Elise" sounds good, and that fingernails scratching a blackboard sounds not good.  Yes, the culture we live in will greatly affect our musical tastes, no doubt.  That is how "My Humps" actually became popular - for a while.  However, in the long run good music appeals to our innate sense of musical taste just as many foods appeal to us while dog manure generally does not.  The odor of a skunk is not disgusting because of a social construction and the scent of a flower is not pleasant because of a social construction.  To some large degree our tastes in food and odor are innate (even though there is great variation in innate individual tastes.)  Why should our musical tastes be so different?  Why shouldn't there be qualities in music that have wide appeal?

Once again, there is no denying we can be conditioned to some degree and that we are individuals as well; this defines the larger challenge; how do we escape our lifelong social conditioning to break through to a real appreciation of what is good in life and what is not for each of us individually?  I do not offer an answer here, and in fact I acknowledge the difficulty.  But I suspect that appreciating what is good and bad to each of us individually while being mindful of the conditioning we are all subject to would lead to a deeper appreciation of good music, good art and in fact, what is good in life itself and what in life is to be avoided.

Yes, it's hard to be free, and it's hard to truly know yourself - but it's probably worth the effort to be free; you may be happier and society may be healthier.  Humanist Music is a piece of the puzzle of freedom and enjoying life.

The next assault on the First Amendment

This blog entry was delayed because I sent it to Newsday as a letter to the editor which they eventually published in an edited form.

President Trump’s claim made on February 2, 2017, at a prayer service, that that churches and their leaders are not allowed to speak freely due to the “Johnson Amendment” is another one of those “alternative facts” that the current administration is so fond of.  Religious institutions and church leaders are, of course, already free to say anything they want.  What the religious institutions are NOT entitled to at the same time they engage in politics are to receive the tax exemptions which would then subsidize their political activities at the expense of other taxpayers.  This tax privilege would not be available to non-religious institutions.  In an objective society and judicial system, this privilege would be judged unconstitutional.

As is typical, President Trump either has not thought this through or is merely pandering to a myopic and narrow Christian base of supporters.  Would they object if a Muslim religious organization accepted donations and used them for a blatantly political campaign aimed to defeat Donald Trump?  Would they care if the donors to the Muslim religious institution received tax deductions for their contributions and the Muslim religious institutions remained tax exempt while politicking successfully against the President?  This is the Pandora’s Box that President Trump is foolishly trying to open.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Fixing Obamacare for Real!

The current debate, dominated by the Republicans since they are 100% in power in Congress and the Executive branch, has avoided at all costs any discussion of far more simple, fair and MORAL fixes to Obamacare.  Everyone knows what the possible fixes are:

1) The Public Option

2) Single Payer/Medicare for All

3) Allowing the Federal Government to negotiate on price for pharmaceuticals and medical device equipment

I will not take any credit for any of these ideas, of course; they have been around for a long time.  The primary reason that these common sense and real solutions are not implemented are twofold: a) the health care industry is the largest lobbyist in the country, larger than the military-industrial complex, and b) ideology prevents many, including most Republicans and Conservatives, from even considering this solution even though Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are highly successful and popular programs that spring from the same ideology of the government providing a social safety net for all Americans.

Learn about these solutions here:

Here is an actual piece of legislation proposed by the Democrats and scored by the CBO:
https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/261

A quick explanation of the public option:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_health_insurance_option#cite_note-16

A news article from January 2013 when Obama was President:
http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/277505-house-dems-push-again-for-creation-of-government-run-health-insurance-option

A news article before the ACA was passed:
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32718713/ns/politics-white_house/#.WNahRsDyvIU

Politifact confirms it is true that the Federal Governmentis prohibited from negotiating on prices:
http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2017/jan/17/tammy-baldwin/tammy-baldwin-federal-government-prohibited-negoti/

An article this year about Trump considering Federal Gov't. negotiating drug prices:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/health/the-fight-trump-faces-over-drug-prices.html?_r=0

Friday, March 17, 2017

Budget losers; environment, children, poor, elderly; winners; wealthy, defense industry

To summarize the proposed budget of the so-called President; if you are poor or middle income, elderly, a child, a student, or someone who cares about the environment or the arts and humanities you're a loser.  If you're a defense contractor or wealthy, you're a winner.

"When you start looking at the places that will reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was 'Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?' And the answer was no,” said Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a Thursday morning interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

"What programs?" you might ask?  A summary is below.

But while we have you here, Mr. Mulvaney, what will NOT get cut, but in fact, increased?  Basically, the answer is "defense spending."  Yes, I'm sure the single mom and the coal miner will be thrilled. Keep in mind that the programs summarized below are getting cut altogether for the most part. Defense is already well-funded in excess of any possible full use of our defense capabilities without destroying the world in the process.  And against what threat are we dramatically increasing our defensive capabilities?  North Korea?  Iran?  ISIS?  China? Russia?

True, the aforementioned countries, entities are dangerous and enemies of our country but truly only North Korea presents a real threat and that real threat is to our allies, South Korea and Japan in the immediate future.  Still, we could grant that North Korea poses a real threat that may require at some point, military action.  Are we not now capable of handling them militarily right now at current funding levels if diplomacy proves hopeless?

Of the other threats to the U.S., the only country that is be likely to be both problematic and difficult to handle militarily would be - Russia, headed by the so-called President's "pal", Vladimir Putin.  Russia is the only country the President has not criticized severely, allies included.  Mr. Coal Miner, who needs that Appalachian Regional Commission and Ms. Single Mom, who needs that after school program?  We need to spend lots of extra money so that we can defend ourselves against the evil Russians headed by the very smart guy, Vlad Putin who helped get the so-called President elected.

There is more math here, however.  The cuts to the programs below will pay for about 6% of the increase in defense spending.  Yes, if the increases in defense were just 6% less, no cuts would be necessary.

And we have not even figured out how to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthy within the Republican Health Care plan, "TrumpDontCare," or the tax cuts for the wealthy in the revenues of the budget which has been deliberately been segregated from the discussion of cutting social programs for the poor and elderly.  The Administration's logic is that these social programs are intolerable to pay for but that tax cuts for the wealthy as a reason to repeal Obamacare is just fine and further tax cuts for the wealthy for no particular reason is even finer.  But we must increase spending on a military buildup even if we have to sacrifice some meals for old poor folks.

For a good answer of the programs being eliminated go to USA Today;  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/03/16/what-does-trump-budget-eliminate/99223182/

Here's a quick summary:

*State Criminal Alien Assistance Program ($210 million): Four states receive the bulk of the funding from this program, which reimburses states for the cost of incarcerating criminal immigrants.
*Senior Community Service Employment Program ($434 million): SCSEP is a job training program for low-income people 55 and older that the White House says is "ineffective."
*Occupational Safety and Health Administration training grants ($11 million)
*The Global Climate Change Initiative ($1.3 billion) was an Obama administration proposal to support the Paris climate agreement. It includes the Green Climate Fund ($250 million), the Strategic *Climate Fund ($60 million) and the Clean Technology Fund ($171 million).
*Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund ($70 million): The account allows the president to "provide humanitarian assistance for unexpected and urgent refugee and migration needs worldwide," but Trump said the mission is best left to international and non-governmental relief organizations.
*The East-West Center ($16 million): Chartered by Congress as the Center for Cultural and Technical Interchange Between East and West, the Honolulu-based nonprofit has a mission of strengthening relations among Pacific Rim countries.
*The Essential Air Service program ($175 million) provides federal subsidies for commercial air service at rural airports.
*Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants ($499 million).
Community Development Financial Institutions grants ($210 million).
*Geographic watershed programs ($427 million) like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative ($40 million) and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Initiative ($14 million): The Trump budget would turn over responsibility for those efforts to state and regional governments.
*Fifty other EPA programs ($347 million) including Energy Star, Targeted Airshed Grants, the *Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, and infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native Villages and the Mexico border.
*Office of Education ($115 million), which the Trump budget says duplicates efforts by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.
*African Development Foundation ($26 million): An independent foreign aid agency focusing on economic development in Africa.
*Appalachian Regional Commission ($119 million): A 52-year-old agency focused on economic growth in 420 counties.
*Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board ($11 million): The agency was created by the Clean Air Act of 1990 and investigates chemical accidents.
*Corporation for National and Community Service ($771 million): The agency is best known for its Americorps community service program.
*Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($485 million): Supports public television and radio stations, including the PBS television network and, indirectly, National Public Radio.
*Delta Regional Authority ($45 million): An economic development agency for the eight-state Mississippi Delta region.
*Denali Commission ($14 million): A state and federal economic development agency for Alaska.
*Institute of Museum and Library Services ($231 million): Provides money to the nation's 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.
*Inter-American Foundation ($23 million): Promotes "citizen-led grassroots development" in Latin America and the Caribbean.
*U.S. Trade and Development Agency ($66 million): Promotes U.S. exports in energy, transportation, and telecommunications.
*Legal Services Corp. ($366 million): A 43-year-old congressionally chartered organization that helps provide free civil legal advice to poor people.
*National Endowment for the Arts ($152 million): Encourages participation in the arts.
*National Endowment for the Humanities ($155 million): Supports scholarship into literature and culture.
*Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. ($175 million): Better known as Neighborworks America, the organization supports local affordable housing programs.
*Northern Border Regional Commission ($7 million): A regional economic development agency serving parts of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
*Overseas Private Investment Corp.($63 million): Encourages U.S. private investment in the developing world.
*U.S. Institute of Peace ($40 million): Government-run think tank focusing on conflict prevention.
*U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness ($4 million): An independent agency coordinating the federal government's efforts to reduce homelessness.
*Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ($11 million): A program to provide scholarships and fellowships in social sciences and humanities.

Surely, some of the above programs may have run their course.  Others may not justify the expenses.  But the block grants to the states in which resides programs such as "Meals on Wheels"?  The Climate Change Initiative?  Americorps?  The Arts? PBS?  The Institutes of Peace?

Friday, March 10, 2017

STOP THE PRESSES! SPICER ADMITS TRUMP IS A HYPOCRITE! AND LAUGHS!

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump would regularly call the Labor Department's unemployment rate a "phony" number, primarily because it had improved vastly under President Obama.  When the rate inched down to under 5% about a year ago, signifying near full employment, Trump claimed, at different times the "real" unemployment rate was from 19% to up to 42%!!

Now he is the so-called President and the first Labor Department unemployment rate under his presidency came out yesterday and the rate was 4.7%. Of course, this rate has nothing to do with anything he's done since he has not had any laws passed and his executive orders have had either nothing to do with jobs nor had enough time to take effect in any way.  The economy is still Obama's economy and will be until about mid-year when new laws, executive actions and budgets start to take effect.  That is the way it is with all new administrations.

But of course the so-called President did what a reasonable person would expect him to do; take complete credit and proclaim the unemployment number no longer phony.  It is now "real."

At his daily press conference, press secretary Sean Spicer said, "I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote them very clearly. They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now,” prompting laughter from reporters in the room.  Go to https://www.rawstory.com/2017/03/sean-spicer-admitted-trump-lied-about-phony-job-numbers-and-reporters-laughed-it-off-now-people-are-furious/ .  Also http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/white-house-job-totals-were-phony-theyre-very-real-now  .

Yes everyone laughed, but this is no joking matter.  The so-called President is so comfortable that his base of support will not question his obvious lies that he and his staff can laugh openly about his hypocrisy along with those who have not drunk the Kool-Aid.  We all know the so-called President is a liar and a hypocrite and that his words mean nothing and that his followers are so blind and willfully ignorant that THEY, the so-called President's people, can openly joke about his lying and hypocrisy.  There will be no repercussions.