Thursday, June 15, 2017

FGM (Take the Knife Away)

Inspiration for songs can come from many places; it's nice when inspiration comes from a loving or some other uplifting source but often it comes from a place of sadness or outrage.  A story in the news last week reminded me of a song I wrote a few years back that is as relevant as ever.

The song is FGM (Take the Knife Away) and was on our "Out of Many, One" CD.  You can hear this song here streaming on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU3popU1eqc&index=46&list=PL7-2FnjsTc1SK-B2GADW7YCNfulb5iqKT .   It is also on my band's (UniversalDice) web site http://www.universaldice.com and on Spotify and many other sites.

The story that arose last week was the first potential prosecution in the U.S. for the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.  Rather than go into details, you can read the story at http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/us/female-genital-mutilation-case-detroit/index.html  .

This case involves a Muslim community but this practice is far from universal among Muslims. In fact it is also prevalent in Ethiopia which has a large Christian population and even existed among Christians in pre-revolution America but the most common thread is religiously or ideologically inspired repression of women.  Since the surgery is typically performed on minors unable to give informed consent, it is a form of abuse, indoctrination and assault.  Instead of being a form of religious freedom, forcing this surgery on a minor is the opposite of freedom for that minor.  I would argue that performing unnecessary surgery of any type, especially one where the intent is to limit or destroy the ability to enjoy sexual relations as an adult, is perverse and should be illegal around the world.  Instead, in some communities, it is the expectation.


I would hope that most who read this would never condone such an act but I think there is an additional thing to consider; the idea that it is a form of religious freedom for adults, even parents, to force a religious practice on minors or to indoctrinate them into a religion.  That is not religious freedom; instead, children should be exposed to the evidence and their ability to reason should be nurtured so that when they become adults, they can make good choices.  That is the lesson we can all take from this.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ideology again

I have written a number of times on Facebook and on my blog about the dangers of ideology (and religion, a type of ideology).  Included in the dangerous forms of ideology that I cited were - ALL ideologies, left, right, middle, up and down, religious and secular. 
http://gerrydantone.blogspot.com/2017/05/ideology.html

Today an ideologue shot up a number of Republican congresspersons and staff practicing for a charity baseball game and police.  He was an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders and progressive left wing politics.  His problem was that he was an ideologue to the point where ideological purity became more important to him that the actual results.  It was more important to this shooter that he remain ideologically pure than do the right thing.  Here is a clue: he complained incessantly about the so-called President - yet did not vote for the only candidate in the election who could have beat him: he refused to vote for Clinton.

According to the website Heavy, "In August 2016, after Sanders had lost the Democratic nomination, he posted on Facebook, “I want Bernie to Win the White House,” along with a petition calling for Sanders to join the Green Party.  He was anti-Hillary Clinton, according to his Facebook posts.  “Bernie is a Progressive, while Hillary is Republican Lite,” he wrote... In another post he wrote, “#ScreamAsOne #NeverVotingHill,” and “You’ve been warned DNC. I will NEVER vote Hillary. A nomination for Hillary equals a win for Trump. #NOTWithHer.”

http://heavy.com/news/2017/06/james-hodgkinson-alexandria-gop-baseball-shooter-shooting-gunman-identified-illinois/

Now I have no issue with those who think that Mr. Sanders was the better candidate or that he had a better chance to beat the so-called President.  This may be true.  But it is pure ideological insanity to NOT vote for Clinton then go on a murderous tirade against the victorious Republicans.  If he and other ideologues had voted for the only other viable alternative, we would not be in this situation.  Thanks for nothing. 


If anything, this shooter's actions, besides being despicable, will only serve to strengthen the hand of the very people he opposed.  But I'm sure he is now in his ideological heaven and would not care.  I hope he rots.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Comey & Trump

The so-called President and his surrogates are trying to make a big deal that Comey has confirmed in his just released statement (6/7/17) to Congress that he indeed told  the so-called President 3 times in private that he was not under investigation.  Of course, this is irrelevant info that the Administration knows the base will think is important.  They, of course, WILL think it's important because the so-called President believes, according to his own stated opinion, they have no ethics or moral grounding.  More on that later.

Here is what Comey said to Congress back on March 20, 2017:  "I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the TRUMP CAMPAIGN and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed."

As you can see, Comey said the investigation was directed at the Trump Campaign.  Duh.  Why did he not announce publicly that Trump was or was not the target?  Comey wrote in his statement today that he "did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change."

In other words, if something were to change, Comey did not want to have to announce that the so-called President was now under investigation.

So the point of the so-called President not being the announced target is not all that important.  His CAMPAIGN has been the target and has always been the target and no one has said otherwise.  To make a big deal out of this is to make a big deal out of nothing.

The so-called President's attorney has said "The President feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”  Here's how we will know this is a lie; when the so-called President and his surrogate do not behave as if they were totally vindicated when Comey testifies.

Finally, the so-called President's supporters will be unfazed by all of this.  They will claim he is vindicated, the victim of a witch hunt and that this is all fake news.  It does not matter what they say because, as the so-called President has pointed out, they have no ethics or moral grounding: "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, ok? It’s, like, incredible.”   http://www.snopes.com/donald-trump-fifth-avenue-comment/ 


Why would he think this would be the case?  Why would he think that he could commit murder (if it were self-defense this would hardly be an "incredible" assertion) and his supporters would not care?  Stupidity might work but more likely it is because the so-called President believes his supporters have no ethics or morals; what they have is blind faith.  And that's just fine for an egomaniac and narcissist.  Those are HIS words.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Newsday article covered the slaughter of Coptic Christians in Egypt that left dozens dead.  Muslim extremists took credit for the killings.  Go to http://www.newsday.com/long-island/killings-shock-long-island-s-coptic-christians-1.13669730

The article features a brief interview with a Coptic Christian couple on Long Island who were understandably upset with the massacres.  To quote from Newsday, "Still, they did not blame Muslims in general. “It’s not a question of religion,” Nabil Awad said. “It’s a question of terrorists. Some people put in their heads that this is the way you are going to heaven, if you kill a Coptic Christian.”

It is admirable that they obviously do not blame Muslims in general - they should not and they do not.  But to absolve the concept of religion is incredible.  The murders were precisely all about religion - it is the religion that inspired the terrorists to perpetrate the terrorism.  As Mr. Awad said, "Some people put in their heads that this is the way you are going to heaven, if you kill a Coptic Christian.”"

This is not socialism, capitalism, libertarianism, conservatism, anarchism, liberalism, communism or fascism or any secular ideology at work; it is a fundamentalist religious ideology at work, the religion of the followers of ISIS or Al Qaeda.

It is incredible but typical that many religious persons will deny the completely religious motivation of religious terrorists in an effort to absolve the concept of religious belief from any blame - but they are just in denial.  Holding a belief beyond question, holding a belief that is at complete odds with the evidence and holding a belief no matter how much misery it continues to create is the exact problem and it is the problem we continue to refuse to acknowledge.

What are they worried about?  Religion or some ideology is not a person; religion does not have feelings; it does not even have rights - people have rights.  Yes people have rights to believe what they choose to BELIEVE but they do not have the right to DO anything they want.  You should be able to say the obvious truth about a religion, that is part of the right of religious freedom - and who is harmed by your opinion?  Well, there is an answer to that question; the person who has their "feelings" harmed is the person that has placed their religion or the very concept of religion beyond question, and cannot objectively judge the value of religion by its consequences - even when dozens of innocent people are killed because of it.  There should be and there is no right to never having your feelings harmed.

Until it is generally admitted by most of humanity that evidence matters, that everything can be questioned, even one's faith and the faith of others, and that what really matters are the consequences of our actions and beliefs, we will not have a winning argument against those who have a deep faith in their murderous ideologies.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Is assaulting a reporter an asset?

Did Greg Gianforte win the Montana House of Representative's race in spite of assaulting a reporter who asked about the CBO scoring of the AHCA, or BECAUSE he assaulted the reporter?
I do not have the answer but it seems incredible that anyone would vote for a guy who assaults a reporter for a legitimate question. Even if the reporter was annoying (it does not seem that he was overly annoying, just persistent) according to the audio and witnesses, please note that Gianforte did not issue an apology until AFTER the election and the voting indicated he won. This is the act of a weasel in my opinion.
Many of Gianforte's supporters are also the so-called President's supporters; he has indicated that the media is the "enemy" of the people. Gianforte assaults a reporter and wins the election. You do the math.

ideology vs. right and wrong

Ramadan is beginning and many American Muslims are dismayed at how radical jihadists around the world have grabbed attention with terrorist acts such as the one in Manchester, England, timed most likely to coincide with Ramadan. Actually, more than just Muslim Americans should be dismayed; anyone who believes that if their religion, ideology, religious leader, scripture or manifesto calls for harming others for a religious or ideological reason should ALSO feel a sense of guilt and dismay. Why? Because it is that rationalization, that harm to others for the sake of ideology is justified, that leads to all sorts of harm and misery across the planet. It was not long ago that a majority of ALL Americans, Christians in particular, believed that making the lives of gay persons WORSE by denying them rights that were available to heterosexuals was justified, usually because of their Christian beliefs. That attitude has been changing but the foundational problem remains: that right or wrong can be based on a religious or secular ideology. It cannot. Right and wrong or ethical and unethical depends on whether someone is unjustly harmed or whether human well being is helped by a behavior or policy. Offending a god or religious or ideological leader is NOT justification - it is an abdication of each of our's responsibility to do what is right or wrong. If a terrorist's religion compels them to kill infidels, the only counter argument is that their religion is irrelevant - we must do what we can determine to the best of our ability makes the world a better place. Obedience to our "belief" is not moral - it is shirking our moral responsibility. We must always be asking moral questions. So here is the question to the reader; do you believe right and wrong is determined by your religion or ideology? If you believe right and wrong is determined by your god, scripture or ideological leader, then you agree with terrorists on this issue. It is only random good fortune, then, that your ideology is not as brutal as theirs.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rights vs. tolerance vs. intolerance

The so-called President's trip to Saudi Arabia put a renewed focus on religion and intolerance.  It's a strange thing about intolerance - it can be used by a group and against that same group and the intolerance can be unethical in both cases, ethical in some cases and ethical in all cases. Think about the case of rival criminal gangs - they may both be intolerable.

But consider the strange mix of ingredients we have here; a so-called President who advocated for a Muslim ban and who says "Islam" hates the U.S. and then turning around and selling hundreds of millions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia, home of the most extreme sect of Islam and birthplace of Al Qaeda and most of the 9-11 hijackers!

You also have the attempt to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and its modification by limiting it arbitrarily to certain Muslim countries that, coincidentally, the so-called President does NOT have business interests in.  And then you have the protests AGAINST that ban by numerous Americans who know a violation of the Constitution when they see one.

This is complicated; are all religions to be respected and accepted merely because they are major religions?  If they are not, is it OK to ban their spread?

I like to keep it simple and here is my take:

1) We should all have the right to practice any religion until this practice  interferes with the rights of others (including the rights of minors, by the way).
2) We should all be subject to the same laws of the land in a free, liberal democratic republic where certain rights are guaranteed for all as per the First Amendment, among other rights.
3) The First Amendment guarantees the rights of all of us to choose our religion, choose no religion and respect any religion we choose to respect or to not respect any religion we choose not to respect. 4) Not respecting a religion in no way diminishes the rights of those persons who practice that religion.  In fact, not being allowed to criticize a religion is a diminishing of our right to freedom of religion!

This is my reasoning for opposing any law that singles out or exempts a religion or singles out or exempts a religious practice for no reason other than it is the practice of a particular religion.

The Saudi Arabia trip buy the so-called President represents almost entirely the opposite of all these principles outlined above: the Muslim ban he previously proposed singled out a single religion was totally unconstitutional and the nonsense spouted in the speech in Saudi Arabia by the so-called President gave respect to a police state theocracy that enslaves women, persecutes gays and even executes all but true believers.  We need to respect the rights of others; but we should judge their beliefs on the merits, the kindness,the ethics and the humanity of those beliefs.  What we have gotten was entirely the opposite.

Here is some news from around the world to show why rights must be protected while withholding respect if warranted:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/other/2-men-in-indonesia-caned-dozens-of-times-for-gay-sex/ar-BBBrpC4?OCID=ansmsnnews11

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelangelo-signorile/post_10496_b_8544540.html

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1554629,00.html

The same story, over and over with this President

One could write a variant of this story pretty much every week or every other day: take something the so-called President has said in the past, show it to be full of untruths and fabrications and contrast it with something he is now doing or saying that shows him to be a hypocrite, liar, inept and totally without ethics.

While running for president, the current occupant said this about Hillary Clinton:
"Crooked Hillary says we must call on Saudi Arabia and other countries to stop funding hate," Trump wrote on June 13, 2016. "I am calling on her to immediately return the $25 million plus she got from them for the Clinton Foundation!" http://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/trump-putin-no-relationship-226282

Keep in mind that the so-called President could not verify the $25million figure; keep in mind the Clintons made no money personally from the foundation; keep in mind that independent charity rating organizations gave the Clinton Foundation high grades as a quality charity; and finally, keep in mind that at the worst, the alleged $25million donation diverted money AWAY from religious extremist causes and instead was actually used to help people around the world.

On the other hand, in the last week, the so-called President did this:
"When President Donald Trump closed a nearly $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia on Saturday, his deputies’ spirits soared. Policy advisor Jared Kushner high-fived National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as he entered the room where they held talks with Saudi officials. Aide Gary Cohn told pool reporters the deals represented “a lot of money. Big dollars. Big dollars.”

The weapons sale was one of the largest in history, totaling close to $110 billion worth of tanks, artillery, radar systems, armored personnel carriers, and Blackhawk helicopters. The package also included ships, patrol boats, Patriot missiles, and THAAD missile defense systems.

Much of that military hardware will likely be pressed into service in the Saudi fight against its neighbor Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have been killed over more than two years of heavy airstrikes and fighting.

This puts the U.S. in a precarious ethical position, say human rights groups and former U.S. officials. The Saudi-led airstrike campaign has hit numerous schools, hospitals, factories, and other civilian targets, leading to well-documented allegations of war crimes by human rights organizations. The war has also pushed much of the country to the brink of starvation, with more than 17 million people facing famine, according to the U.N."  http://time.com/4787797/donald-trump-yemen-saudi-arabia-arms-deal/?xid=homepage

Yeah but Benghazi and the email server.

For info on the Clinton Foundation:  https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=16680

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

He's unfit, stupid!

The so-called President is unfit for the office of President and THAT is why he should be removed from office.  If the bar is that it must be proven that he committed a crime, colluded with the Russians, obstructed justice or has breached the emoluments clause in the Constitution and those crimes cannot be proven to the satisfaction of willfully ignorant Republican congresspersons, we will continue to have as President someone who: lies constantly; is a misogynist who has bragged about committing sexual assault; is a religious bigot towards Muslims, atheists and others; hallucinates, fabricates; bullies; is ignorant; is totally unaware of his own limitations; has numerous conflicts of interests; breaks BIG promises then lies about breaking them; and, oh yes, is the most perfect example of narcissism in the history of the planet.  In other words, even if he is not impeached for a high crime and misdemeanor, he remains unfit to be President.

The obstruction of justice and the emoluments clause are his biggest criminal problems but if he had not threatened and then fired Comey and was not milking his position for personal profit, would he be otherwise fit?  The answer is no.  Suppose, in an alternative reality, Comey had been a lackey who did the so-called President's bidding and did not get fired, would the so-called President then be fit? The answer is no.

He is simply mentally unfit for the job of being President.  This is not about politics since his replacement, VP Pence, is a more classic Republican than he is.  The 25th Amendment exists as the remedy when the President is unfit but it would take guts from VP Pence, guts the VP has never displayed.  But this is what needs to happen for the good of the country.  It's not a good idea to have a mentally unfit President no matter what his politics are or what the politics of his replacement would be.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trump and Comey

Trump's letter firing FBI director Comey had a strange sentence inserted in it that basically had nothing to do with anything else in the letter but everything to do with Trump trying to convince the world that the Russia investigation had nothing to do with the firing. Yeah, right.
To demonstrate how idiotic this insertion was, and that only a person with the mentality of the so-called President could possibly be impressed, I have re-produced the letter with an "alternative" insertion (in CAPS):
"I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am THE BEST KISSER YOU EVER MET, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau. It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores the public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.
I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Donald J. Trump" 5/9/17
I invite the reader to insert some other non-sequitur into the letter and see if it makes any more sense.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

IDEOLOGY!

Here is something the media does not much cover and as usual the reason is that if it DID cover it, many people would be offended and reject that media outlet.  In the age of the Internet, there are so many media alternatives that the turn off rate would be very painful for any media outlet to endure.  As a media outlet, you can't offend your customer and then expect to thrive.

What am I talking about?  The problem that is "ideology."  I use this term to encompass all belief systems from religions to secular ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, communism, socialism, fascism, anarchism, capitalism and much more.  Here is the key feature of an ideology: it's beliefs are accepted beyond question by the adherent.  Adherents often have their own set of facts to justify their ideology.  All can be explained, adherents believe, by their belief system.  No matter the miserable results of their ideology, adherents will remain faithful to their ideology!

One easily see how religions fall into this category and there is almost no need to explain the problem of religious ideology to a rational person (I know you're out there somewhere!) but secular belief systems can likewise fall into this same trap.  If a free enterprise economy leads to general and widespread prosperity, a Marxist will raise the very theoretical problem of the "alienation" of workers.  If a free market system leads to incredible income disparity and misery that begs for regulation or solution, libertarians will call the regulations or solutions "tyranny."

It is interesting that no ideologue can actually point to the actual existence of an ideal economic or political system in practice - they've never existed and the reason is simple; we humans are not ideal.  We are not reasonable so everything we do will be screwed up in some way by human nature.  A free market will be ruined by greed; socialism ruined by sloth.  Free speech is ruined by lies; government controlled speech is ruined by lust for power.  If humans were perfectly reasonable, an ideal system would arise organically - reasonable solutions would present themselves and reasonable humans wold adopt those solutions.  But since we are not always (or often) reasonable, and we don't adopt reasonable solutions, but instead cling to ideological solutions, all economic and political systems will scream out for limits, rules and patches to address the weak points that human nature will exploit in these ideological systems.

Even total freedom is a frightening prospect; anarchists seems to ignore the danger of the sociopaths and psychopaths among us; how does one enforce anarchy anyway, aside from "might makes right?" And of course, we need to look no further than North Korea to see the opposite system where the government tries to control everyone's very thoughts.

Think about the current debate over health care; one side objects to the "tyranny" of a government regulated system that steals money from the rich and sends it to the poor in the form of subsidies for health care insurance.  There are those on the other side, however, that simply hate "big pharma," insurance companies, hospital systems and so on, ideologically because they are part of the capitalistic system that we use in the U.S.  They would prefer a socialistic system where the government controls it all, from hospital, pharmaceutical companies and doctors.

A non-ideological approach would be to observe the facts around the world and ask "what works?"  The answer increasingly looks like a "Medicare for All" system actually delivers more health care to more people for less cost.  Those who live in those countries actually live longer while spending less on healthcare.  These observations are verifiable.

If one attempts to be reasonable and non-ideological, one can see the merit in this kind of approach.  As an example, George Will, generally a conservative commentator, pointed out this week that the American Public has started to see heath care as something similar to a "right."  In this country, we all are entitled to police protection, protection against invading enemies and so on.  These protections are somewhat similar to "rights" in that we have agreed, in this country, to provide them to everyone.  No one is clamoring for police protection as if it were the latest iPhone.  We need police protetion and defense for the country but we would like to be safe for as little cost as possible.  Now, it's not as if we are clamoring to be treated for being ill; we NEED to be treated when we are sick - this is not a market decision.  We just want our health if needed for as little cost as possible.  We need to treat health care the way we treat police protection and national defense, and this is without regard to the free market aside from encouraging some efficiencies.  We all need it, but want only what is necessary and for as little cost as possible. Medicare for All may accomplish this.  Imagine if we all individually had to pay for police protection or national defense and if we did not were excluded somehow?

Why shouldn't we all, from innocent children, to the elderly, to the disabled, to the poor and everyone else be protected from sickness and injury?  Indeed, why not?  The only argument against this is the selfish argument, the "tyranny" argument - the wealthy being resentful of some of their wealth being used to assist others by democratically and constitutionally enacted law.  For some reason they believe their minority position should trump the position of the majority on this subject.  It's as if those who support that position really believe humans are islands - it's as if we are all really on our own.  All the evidence, however, points to the fact that humans need each other - that is one of the feature of being a human.  That's why democracy seems to be a necessary component of a thriving society.

Ultimately it seems reasonable to take the approach that no "pure" system will ever work as long as humans are selfish, greedy, lazy and irrational.  When we become perfect, no system will be necessary.  That is why ideology is to be avoided like the plague it is.

But here is the irony: in the way that "faith" which is the rejection of reason in favor of a comforting though unjustified (by the actual evidence or logic) belief, is thought to be a virtue, being "ideological" is also thought to be virtuous in public discourse.  It is not; accepting the overwhelming evidence that humans are not perfect and that ideologically based systems to guide our lives are sure to be ruined by imperfect human nature is imperative.  We are far from reaching that imperative.

The only systems worth having are those tested by their results, with the knowledge that the tests are ongoing and the results never assumed to be permanent. Change and adaptation is to be expected and even welcomed as we think of better ways to do things.  We need to turn "ideology" into a dirty word.

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.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Breitbart, The Blaze and others spread fake news? I'm Shocked!

Here is the Breitbart Headline: "Democrats in Congress refused to stand while a Navy SEAL’s widow was acknowledged by President Trump in his speech before a joint session of Congress Tuesday night."  They followed this headline with the following accusation:  "Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), among others, remained firmly seated and did not applaud at all while the rest of the room gave Carryn Owens a standing ovation, IJR reported."

Notice the weasel phrase, "IJR reported."  This is a tactic used by fake news outlets to report a story that they could easily verify or debunk but would prefer not to because the story, as it stands, supports their world view.  So instead of reporting it themselves which they could have done, or discrediting it altogether, they merely repeat the unverified story because it hurts - the Democrats.

But of course, the story was false.

Snopes investigated and found the video, on the White House web site that showed Democrats standing and applauding.  The fake news outlets used photos of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Keith Ellison from other unrelated parts of the so-called President's speech to the  joint session of Congress.  Go to http://www.snopes.com/democrats-stand-seal-widow/.

For the fake news, take a look at http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/03/01/democrats-refuse-stand-navy-seals-widow-received-standing-ovation-trump-speech/ or http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/03/01/meet-the-democrats-who-refused-to-stand-and-applaud-the-widow-of-a-fallen-navy-seal/  .


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On "States Rights" and "We're Just Enforcing the Law"

There are weasel words and there are weasel phrases.  Today's news events bring to mind the weasel phrases  "State's Rights" and "We're Just Enforcing the Law".

The Civil War and Jim Crow bring to mind the weasel phrase "State's Rights."  The weasel concept of "State's Rights" was used to defend slavery and later on racial segregation and the Jim Crow laws that were used to deny the civil rights of minorities.  This excuse was used because tide of history was working against these last racist holdouts so they invoked the magical rights of "States" to deny the real-life rights of actual living breathing human beings.

The rights of actual living breathing human beings  should never be subordinated to the rights of states and particularly  never because of the irrational, ideologically or religiously based dogmatic beliefs of people who, finding themselves in a minority, seek to reduce their sphere of influence to a level where they finally find themselves in a majority.  Quite often, this is a State.  If they have to go down to the level of a county or city or even neighborhood, they would do so if it allowed them to deny those human rights to others.  There really is no reason why "County Rights" is illegitimate while "States Rights" is legitimate; the truth is that neither is legitimate when it comes to limiting human rights.  Human rights should not disappear when you cross state or county or city lines.

Today, 2/22/17, citing "States Rights," the Trump administration at the behest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will now allow States to force transgender children to use the restroom that the state demands that they use, if that is what the State chooses to do while exercising their rights.  Yes, transgender children who present as male but who were born with a body typical of a female will be forced to use the girls rooms in some states, while children who present and identify as female but were born with the body of male will be forced to use the boys room.

Transgender persons have a suicide attempt rate of over 40% in some studies while the rest of the population has a rate in the low single digits.  However, when a transgender has the support of their family and community and are able to have the associated surgeries if they so desire, their suicide rate plunges to near the population average.  Apparently, in my opinion, this does not concern the likes of Jeff Sessions.  Go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/us/politics/devos-sessions-transgender-students-rights.html .  This is the kind of thing that "States Rights" is typically used for.

The other "weasel phrase" for today is "We're Just Enforcing the Law".  The Trump Administration has changed the guidelines for enforcing immigration laws.  They New York Times does a good job of describing the changes:  "President Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more aggressively, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes...  Documents released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.

The new enforcement policies put into practice language that Mr. Trump used on the campaign trail, vastly expanding the definition of “criminal aliens” and warning that such unauthorized immigrants “routinely victimize Americans,” disregard the “rule of law and pose a threat” to people in communities across the United States.

Despite those assertions in the new documents, research shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans." Go to https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/21/us/politics/dhs-immigration-trump.html .

Now of course, everyone supports the deportation of those here illegally if they are criminals.  Who needs them?  But is it really in the nation's best interest to go after even those who have not committed crimes? The government does not go after every infraction unmercifully after all.  What if the government punished every person who ever smoked pot?  Or punished every person who violated any archaic law regarding sexual relations (not including child abusers of course)?  Or every jaywalker?  Or every copyright violator?  Or any lawbreaker of  any law, period?  Who'd be left?  No one!  It is hard to never go over 55MPH on any highway, or 65MPH where it is allowed.  Who'd be left?  No one!!

And that is why guidelines are so important.  But never mind that; they'll just say, "We're Just Enforcing the Law."  Weasels.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Writing New Songs!

As a songwriter, I am always working on something. After completing the songs for "birth, love, hate, death" I started considering what I should write about for the next CD. Typically I like to have a focus or theme for my collection of tunes. For example, our first CD, "My Name is Thomas..." was a rock opera totally about faith and reason, meaning and purpose. Our second CD, "mostly True Stories" was a collection of songs about dogma, religion and ideology. Our next CD, "Out of Many, One" was more political in nature. These were the things that were on my mind when I wrote those songs and albums. Our upcoming release, "birth, love, hate, death" is another rock opera and this time the focus is love. Yes, it took me 4 albums to get the subject most bands start with and never leave! One reason I waited that long was because, in many ways, love is a far more complex a subject than, faith, reason, politics, religion and ideology; I was not previously ready or qualified to write an album dedicated to love. I may still not be ready or qualified, but I could no longer put it off when I came to the key understanding that love is more than a feeling - it's a behavior. Anyone can claim to "feel" love for another and then behave miserably. This was a key understanding and led me to write a story where the characters clearly come to understand that if they love someone they must sacrifice if necessary for that someone; that is what they must do. It's what you do for love that matters, and what you do better be the right thing, not the selfish thing, not the controlling thing, not the jealous thing and not the vengeful thing. THE RIGHT THING, the thing that is good for the person you love even if it is not thing you want selfishly. No one owes you love after all. My favorite lyrics always express doubt or some tragic sentiment; in this album the lines that are central (to me) are "I love you so much, I'd risk losing you; I can't do nothing except what's right by you..." (From "Better Man") Also, in "Honestly," the character declares "I don't know what love is" and "I don't know what I'm doing." Exactly. This is my attempt at telling the truth, the best that I know it. I will be writing more about the songs I've written in the past but I did want to mention that the next CD will be different, though related; the focus will be family, as if I know anything useful on the subject.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

You don't have to like Islam to oppose "the Travel Ban"

One of the more difficult-to-understand concepts involved in maintaining a free country is granting equal and full rights to those with whom you disagree.  Far too many citizens in the U.S. (and elsewhere) believe that in a democracy, the majority get their way, period.  Not so in the United States, thank goodness.

There are certain rights that are NOT subject to majority whim and these are the rights enumerated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  As the key example is the First Amendment which reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  Please note the very first mandate of this Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ..." 

The author of the First Amendment, James Madison, was clear in his intent.  He wrote, “It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points.  The tendency to usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against. by an entire abstinence of the Govt. from interference in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.  [Letter to the Reverend Jasper Adams, January 1, 1832]”  ― James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison Volume 3"

Just to further demonstrate Madison's intent to limit the power of the majority, he also wrote “Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.”  ― James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison Volume 3"

Now I understand that just because it's in the Constitution and James Madison made his intent clear, it does not mean it is the best policy for us to follow.  However, after over 200 years of experience it has become clear that Madison's First Amendment has served us well.  In fact one could make the argument that no sentence in the history of humanity has served humanity better than the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America: it is perhaps the greatest sentence ever written.  It IS the greatest sentence ever written!  Thank you James Madison.

What does this have to do with the current travel ban proposed by executive order of President Trump?  Clearly Trump campaigned and gained tremendous support on the basis of his proposed ban on all Muslims attempting to travel to the U.S.  He clearly sought advice, from Rudy Giuliani for example, on how to achieve his previously stated goal while passing legal muster.  This is a ban intended to target Muslims and the "carve out" exemptions in the ban for Christians and other non-Muslims proves this.  His "travel" ban is fooling no one; it is the beginning of  a process to ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S.  The fact that he did not ban travel from a number of countries that have actually had its citizens travel to the U.S. to kill Americans would be confounding until you realize they are countries he has business interests within!  If a President Hillary Clinton had done something similar there would be calls for impeachment, probably justifiably.

It is obvious to many, except Trump and his supporters, that many Muslims are persecuted within these and other countries, not just for being the "wrong" kind of Muslim, but for being moderate, reasonable and in fact, freedom loving Muslims.  To Trump, it seems, all Muslims are the same.

The above all being said, I am not a Muslim, and you can bet your last dollar, I will never become a Muslim.  I cringe when I hear someone say "Islam is a religion of peace".  I also cringe when someone says "God is love" or whatever anyone else claims about their chosen religion or ideology.  I know these claims are not true by the results, by history.

Some critics of Islam claim that up to 51% of Muslims in the U.S. believe that they should be allowed to live under sharia law in the U.S.  I have not verified this claim from a reliable pollster, only from less reliable pollsters, but the claim is widely repeated.  If you parse this concept carefully, it does not necessarily mean that U.S. Muslims  believe that everyone would have to live under such law, but instead only those who choose to governed this way, but this distinction is still unacceptable.  All Americans of all religions are to be governed under the same law and treated equally.  The government should never be placed in a position to enforce a religious law even if the citizen wants to be governed in this manner.

But please note that while the above unverified claim about American Muslims is disturbing, it is not that much different from what reliable pollsters such as Pew  Research found in October 2006 about American Christians. "When asked which should have more influence over the laws of the country, ­ the Bible or the will of the people, even when it conflicts with the Bible ­ most Americans (63%) say the people’s will should have more sway. A significant minority (32%), however, believes the Bible should be more important." (http://www.pewforum.org/2006/08/24/many-americans-uneasy-with-mix-of-religion-and-politics/#intro) This is not that incredibly different from the claim about Muslims except that in this case you can be sure the 32% meant imposing law on ALL Americans.  If you were to poll Trump supporters ONLY, I suspect that the percentage would exceed 51%.

You don't have to like ANY religion or ideology (such as liberalism, conservatism, fascism, communism, socialism, libertarianism, etc.) to allow those that hold those beliefs to retain their rights under the Constitution.  You don't have to like Islam to oppose the travel ban - you need to love justice and equality under the law.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

There are two ways to protest

Yes, there are two ways to protest - the effective way and the ineffective way.  The first way moves you closer to your actual goals, the other way does not move you to your goal and may, in fact, move you away from your goal - that is unless your goal is to not actually to achieve anything positive but is instead to give oneself a feeling of righteousness and a false sense of moral superiority.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow activists certainly were effective in their method of protest - it was their protests that lead to actual legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  That law and others led to a gradual improvement in the lives of many minority citizens and, in fact, all Americans.  The achievements are undeniable and we are lucky to have had a Martin Luther King Jr. in our midst.

For me, the hallmark of MLK's method of protest was that it was actually peaceful and the only laws that might be broken were the very laws that were unjust. Laws against blocking traffic, rioting and so on are not unjust laws and he did not encourage any of this kind of lawbreaking. Also, he advocated boycotts of the offending systems of discrimination and this was also an elegant tool in the toolbox of this great American.

MLK did not promote the breaking of windows of storefronts or throwing rocks at police even though the stores may have discriminated against them and the police forces were pawns of white supremacists.  He and other civil rights leaders and marchers took their lumps and spent time in jail but they did not engage in criminal mischief and did not victimize others in retaliation for the massive injustices perpetrated against them.  They and their co-protesters were the bravest of the brave.

On the other hand there were many protesters in that same period who did throw rocks at police and burned down businesses that they resented.  They also harmed the lives of innocent bystanders as well.  Did they get the results they desired?  If you are talking about improving the lives of the oppressed, it is doubtful.  This kind of behavior is not likely to move someone to your side if they are currently on the fence.  Lawmakers similarly do not like being coerced by the threat of violence.  However, if you believe the goal of violent protesters was retribution and a selfish goal of self-righteousness, they probably succeeded in achieving those empty gestures.

That little bit of background brings us quickly to today where we have the example of two kinds of protests that occurred in the last week.  The first and largest protests were the well organized and properly permitted Women's Marches that occurred all over the U.S.  I attended the march in Manhattan and it was an amazing event.  The general theme was a protest against President Trump's apparent misogyny epitomized by his bragging about his own pattern of sexual assault, later confirmed by alleged actual victims.  It was an amazing chain of events; Trump had confessed (via video of an old TV show) followed by over 10 women claiming to having been his victims, to his denial of ever doing what he bragged about doing followed by his incredibly insulting rants against his accusers!  All was forgiven by Trump's supporters as he predicted - he had said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and they would still vote for him.  He was pretty much correct.

Obviously the protest was peaceful - supposedly 1,000,000 people participated around the country and only about 4 arrests were reported.  A week or so later the marches had an approval rating of about 60% which is pretty good considering 40% or so of the country supports the President.  This is how you conduct a protest.  There is hope that a movement was begun with these marches.

In contrast, on 2/1/17, "protests that erupted at UC Berkeley ahead of a planned Wednesday appearance by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos caused $100,000 worth of damage to the campus, the school said Thursday.  The university blamed "150 masked agitators" for the unrest, saying they had come to campus to disturb an otherwise peaceful protest.  Two Berkeley College Republicans "were attacked while conducting an interview" on the campus on Thursday, UC Berkeley also said in a prepared statement. The attackers, who were not affiliated with the university, were taken into custody by UC Berkeley police."  (Go to http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/01/us/milo-yiannopoulos-berkeley/)  The appearance was canceled.

If you wanted to promote Milo Yiannopolous (a Breitbart contributor) and increase his popularity, this was the absolute best way to do it.  Imagine the mileage Milo will get out of this incident!  He will look like the free speech champion and those who object to his misogynistic and race baiting style will become associated with censorship and violence by those looking on from afar.  This outcome is far better for Yiannopolous than actually giving the speech.

The protesters got it all wrong; they should have boycotted the event or held an alternative event.  What they should not have done, above all other things, is perpetrate violence and prevent free speech even by a loathsome individual.  That is the wrong way to protest - the ineffective way.

Here is my message to those who are not happy with the President or his apologists: Do not give the administration ammunition to drum up popular support to effectively prohibit dissent.  I personally do not care whether you do feel morally superior or self righteous or not.  I care about the results.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Alternative Facts = TheTrump administration's normalization of lies

Have you seen this?  http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/conway-press-secretary-gave-alternative-facts-860142147643?cid=eml_onsite  .

In this clip from NBC's "Meet the Press," with host Chuck Todd, Trump spokesperson Kellyane Conway defended Trump press secretary Sean Spicer as merely offering "alternative facts" in place of the truth regarding the size of the crowds attending Trump's inauguration in a no-questions press conference the day after the inauguration.

Let there be no mistake.  Of five widely reported items in the news that Spicer wanted to dispute, four of Spicer's conflicting versions of the truth were clearly false - probably outright lies if any effort had been made to check on their veracity.

The only item that Spicer got correct - that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed by the Trump staff, was, in fact, false was quickly confirmed by the reporter who originally got it wrong.  A phone call from the White House to the reporter would have sufficed to get the record set straight, get the correction and probably an apology.

The other four items regarding crowd sizes, however, are fact as reported by the media originally as far as anyone can determine.  No evidence to the contrary was presented by Spicer.  Spicer, at best, was dead wrong, and most likely, lying deliberately.

So what  did Kellyanne say that is even more important than the lies of Sean Spicer?  Here is the exchange:

Conway: "Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You're saying it's a falsehood, and they're giving — our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that. But the point really is —"


Chuck Todd:  “Wait a minute. Alternative facts? Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered . . . were just not true. Alternative facts are not facts; they're falsehoods.”

In the first day on the job, Press Secretary Sean Spicer lies about 80% of the indisputable facts he disputed, with almost a 100% certainty that he was ordered to do so by President Trump and then was wholeheartedly defended the next day by top adviser Kellyanne Conway.

 Conway wondered why Chuck Todd was "laughing" at her during the interview.  She is right.  This is no laughing matter and the media would be wise to not treat this as a joke any longer.  This is sick and dangerous.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Most Depressing Thing Today, 1/20/17; Ideology

Today, January 20, 2017, was the day that Donald J. Trump was inaugurated.  However, his inauguration, which was inevitable and lawful, was not the thing that depressed me most.  After all, he won the election game although, as any objective person would admit, he in fact came in second to another person in the popular vote.  All you can say is that he legally won the election game under the insane rules under which it is governed.  To deny him the presidency is to descend into anarchy and chaos.  Following rules, even crazy rules, is probably a better alternative.

It wasn't his speech that was especially depressing either.  I had no expectations of graciousness from Trump nor did I expect him to reach out to others, in particular to that majority of Americans who opposed him.

The most depressing thing was the violence perpetrated by a small group of persons protesting Trump's inauguration in the nation's capital.  Although few in number, the coverage of their actions was immense - all eyes were on Washington DC.  Since those who oppose Trump need to make their views known, it is frightening to think that such demonstrations may serve, instead, to help President Trump.

Even though the violence was limited, at least as of 4:30pm EST, to the burning of a Fox News vehicle, and some violence in the streets of Washington DC, this is precisely the kind of thing that will help Trump and hurt those who oppose his intentions to reverse the Affordable Care Act, and help Trump promote his racial, ethnic, homophobic, transphobic, misogynist and religious biases.  This kind of hijacking of a peaceful protest will serve to make people think twice about protesting; the concern that a protest will turn violent is a legitimate concern.  If you care about whether the protest will actually turn into an asset for President Trump to exploit, why protest?

If you want to help Trump, do what those particular protesters did: riot in the streets and burn vehicles.  I do not care how the protesters feel in their hearts about Trump.  I do not like Trump but I view these protesters as agents of Trump.  What I care about are the results of their actions.  Their actions will only give comfort to supporters of Trump and strengthen their and Trump's resolve to follow though on their biases.

Consider that Trump would have been roundly defeated if only voter turnout was high; Clinton would have won if those who favored her did not stay home out of laziness, complacency, lack of motivation or because Clinton was "not progressive enough."  Any protester who did not vote for Clinton can now thank themselves for the eventual results.  They should be hiding in shame instead of rioting in the street if that is what they were doing.

What kind of thinking leads to this sort of behavior?  How does anyone come to the conclusion that rioting and behaving like anarchists will change the hearts and minds of those on the fence about Donald J. Trump?  Unfortunately the answer is that the rioters are the mirror image of those Trump supporters who threatened peaceful protesters at Trump rallies; or those who chanted "lock her up"; or those who chanted "build the wall."  Those pro-Trump supporters did not care whether their beliefs were reasoned, true or helpful. They just believed.

In the next few days there will be numerous demonstrations around the country protesting Trump's expected policies; if too many of the demonstrations are hijacked by a violent few, they will only serve to help Trump move his agenda forward just as the misguided "anti-war" movement helped George W. Bush gain support for the disastrous Iraq War in 2002 and 2003.

Most people have short memories.  To quickly summarize, demonstrators had often framed the opposition to the Iraq War as being opposed to all wars - it was the "anti-war" movement, not, more specifically, the "anti-Iraq War" movement; also, some protesters coupled it with anti-capitalism protests which was not helpful; and occasionally some participants perpetrated violence.  Obviously, to an American public that has not forgotten World War II, and for those who understood that the U.S. was attacked by Al Qaeda on 9-11, overall pacifism seemed a ridiculous concept. Also, to those who have reaped the benefits of the world's strongest economy, lumping anti-capitalism with an "anti-war" movement was not sensible.

The better route for that movement to take was to emphasize that Iraq was NOT the source of the 9-11 attack and that bin Laden, hiding on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, WAS the source.    The other excuse, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, was the subject of ongoing UN inspections that were halted by the U.S. before they were completed so that we could invade - before the inspectors could confirm that there were NO weapons of mass destruction.  By the time the Iraq War began, and for years after, most Americans had the impression that Iraq was involved in 9-11 and that weapons of mass destruction were found.  The "anti-war" movement failed to communicate these key facts primarily because the "anti-war" movement was more about ideology than preventing the Iraq War.  They had other axes to grind - their ideologies.

This is my warning; do not make those who are ready to oppose President Trump's policies reluctant to side with a movement marred by anarchists and rioters and ideologues.  Let the demonstrations be inspiring, peaceful and welcoming to those looking on objectively.  Give onlookers the information they need to have, such as the simple fact that the popular Affordable Care Act is actually the same as the unpopular Obamacare.  Duh!  Let them understand that manufacturing jobs are mostly disappearing due to automation; let them understand that tax cuts for the wealthy mean that everyone else will have a greater tax burden; let them understand that equality under the law applies to women, minorities, the disabled, GLBT persons, non-believers and Muslims as well.  Give them the obvious yet disputed facts!

However, I am afraid that anarchists and ideologues do not  really care whether they are actually assisting Trump; ideologues are ideologues precisely because they care more about their belief system than whether it is grounded in reality and whether the results of their ideology actually assist with humanity's well being.  To be an ideologue is to place your ideology beyond question and to accept the results no matter how bad they are.  Ideologues just believe.  Those who burned the FoxNews car did Trump a huge favor but are now basking in their own perceived "purity."

They are the mirror image of Trump supporters.  These violent and radical few cannot be allowed to hijack the movement to stop Trump from doing what he has promised to do.