Sunday, August 23, 2015

Indignation, Indiscretion, Immigration and Inspiration

Everyone seems to have something to be angry about these days, whether it is justified or not. I have very little sympathy for the whining of the American electorate, which can't stand the representatives they have chosen.  Their voting patterns over the past 10 years or so have been following the recipe for the perfect political logjam, and this they have achieved.  I have a little more sympathy for the downtrodden who can't get a living wage: as I indicated recently, it is a difficult problem, but one that deserves sustained attention and policy change--and for the families of those whose children have been mowed down by out-of-control cops and criminal gang behavior.

As for me, my whine of the moment--lesser in scale, I admit--is against Verizon, which has emerged from the chaotic scramble following the breakup of the AT&T monopoly 30 years ago as the top dog in the cellular "space".  I will admit they have the most extensive coverage, but I will assert that their service quality is the worst.  They have overcharged my daughter some $92 on her prepaid phone through their own error and are so far unwilling to make good on it.  Therefore, faced with their intransigence, I am beginning a campaign to denigrate them at every opportunity.  I doubt you will have any sympathy, unless you have suffered from their special combination of incompetence and indifference; if so, please comment here!

No Hiding Place
This is the title of one of Elvis Costello's best songs of the last decade (from the album "Momofuku", before he decided to follow his wife's career path and try to become a lounge singer).  It is the most recent example of the style he (and Bob Dylan) have successfully used in their careers, which I call the "second-person accusative".  "You...(unnamed) did all these bad things, and I'm exposing you before everyone".  In the case of this Elvis song, it's somebody who made some anonymous attacks of a slanderous nature against Elvis' stage persona  (or the real-life Declan McManus, or possibly some character he is adapting only for the song) and thinks he/she can avoid responsibility for the bad-mouthing.

It also would seem to describe well the feelings of those victimized sinners who signed into the Ashley Madison site, in search of a presumably adulterous hook-up, but now have been publicly exposed as such.  My advice is to brazen it out and deny everything that is unproven.  Signing up for the website in itself is no sin; just what you might have done afterward.   And you government employees who signed on with your work email addresses:  admit the sin of stupidity (unless you think someone else did it under your name, which is certainly possible), while expressing shock that the site wasn't blocked by your Internet servers.  That's certainly what my employer would've done, most probably did.  Or, you could always claim you were doing research--that will probably be the excuse for some exposed journalists. Personally, I deny ever having even heard of the site until this disclosure of the hack, nor would I have had any interest in it or its presumed mission.

Speaking of the sin of stupidity, that is the most that I think Hillary Clinton should admit with regard to the endlessly unrevealing Emailgate story.  From what I can glean, Hillary's move to handle her work emails (as Secretary of State) and personal emails with her own secured server violated some policy that came along sometime when she was in that office, but was not originally a violation.  It was done for her convenience; I imagine using the work email in a secure fashion would have been quite inconvenient in some of the hundred or so countries she went to on the job.  There is no evidence that she knowingly disclosed classified information improperly; those who comment about how the Obama Administration has persecuted/prosecuted many for violations of info security policy ignore the fact that they did exactly that.  Otherwise, what we are talking about would have been (at the time when she was still in office) a wrist-slap type offense:  several years after the term of service, it's not even that.

I have heard several self-righteous newsies talking about how it demonstrates Hillary's sense of entitlement, that it, and her reactions to the "scandal", show she's not like the rest of us regular folks. Well, that's right, she's not.  She was the Secretary of State, and her convenience is a high priority to the American people, so that she can do her enormously important, complex, and demanding job effectively.  Which she did.  I'm pretty sure that I, and the great majority of Americans, will agree that this is no big deal when the final reports are issued--and that is what I want, some report with finality from those who investigate.   (I forgot to mention that the paranoids who control this stuff reflexively classify all information way too highly, whereas they show much less ability to protect our supposedly secure databases from hacking.)

Trump's Card is Dehumanization
And his key strategy is imprecision.  After a very effective month of avoiding all policy positions and pushing himself to the top of the Republican moshpile with a most potent mix of put-downs, braggadocio, and offensive language, his campaign actually came forward with a policy statement, on his signature topic of immigration, which backed up his claim to owning the strongest, most extensive and radical set of proposals of any of them.  His program included advocacy of extreme, unrealistic actions like massive deportation, confiscation of undocumented workers' funds, denying or cancelling the residency of citizenship of their children born here, somehow convincing Mexico to build an impenetrable wall along our border at their own expense, and even proposals to break the legal H1b visa program (which brings in skilled foreign workers at employers' request), but also some legitimate criticism of that H1b program, as well as advocating stronger controls and penalties for employers who take on undocumented workers--the latter of which is the only measure which would really make any difference with the problem.  If there is a problem; the fact is that, though people don't recognize it,  the undocumented are moving out as least as fast as new ones are coming in.

I have some experience with H1b (submitting documents for applicants for the program).  The argument that H1b jobs can be something of a trap for those who have them--because change of job could end the work permit for the holders--has some validity.  The proposal to raise the minimum pay level for such jobs makes some sense, actually; jobs which have requirements which make them impossible to fill with US applicants--that is the formal requirement--should be well-paid.  The argument that these jobs, mostly technical ones, could be filled with unemployed people is highly farfetched and impractical--yes, they could be filled that way, but not well.  At bottom, it is just another nativist appeal to the generally fallacious argument that immigrants are taking our jobs, and an opportunity to antagonize another minority group--in this case, Asian-Americans, who are the principal beneficiaries of the program.

I've also gotten involved in some discussion about the assertion by the Trump campaign that a constitutional amendment is not needed to end so-called "birthright citizenship", which automatically grants US citizenship to most babies born in US territory.  I read all the arguments--there is a case that the longstanding policy could be reversed by simple legislation, but I would say it is an extreme longshot--unless the new President can pack the Supreme Court with a couple more reactionary activists (of the ilk of Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, and I'm not even sure they would go that far).  I say, let's put the proposed constitutional amendment out there and begin the debate:  it's not clear that the current policy is wise going forward, but removing it would create a number of problems.  So, let's begin the beguine;  it is certainly not the central problem.

In today's talk show reviews, Trump was very sparing on any details about how he could possibly achieve his program (because he could not), suggesting just that he would get some great managers who could make it all possible.  That's called assembling the Cabinet, and every President does it:  not a very original idea.  He magnifies the problem, in terms of the numbers of people and the effects, next claims the government has no idea who or where the people are, then expects the government to effectively--somehow--round up and deport them all.  It's incoherent. I don't criticize the reporters for following the story with slavish admiration, as it is a story of interest.  What is missing is any discussion of what it would actually mean if Donald Trump were the President:  for example, how could he govern without providing favor to his extensive business interests?

The Democrats have the advantage of being able to dismiss all of it; the Republicans have to address Trump's extreme contrary positions which uncomfortably resemble their own party's.  They are faced with a lose-lose choice for the nomination battle and for the general election, as Trump continues to ravage their party's chances.  That's why I want to see Trump continue to run as long as possible..."wherever".  Trump is, for me, The Wherever Man. (I would hope I don't need to explain the reference.)

Ending on Some Positive Notes
I want to mention  four.  First, the three Americans (and one Briton) who subdued an armed individual apparently intent on creating a massacre on a high-speed train in Europe.  And doing it without being armed themselves, taking great risk to tackle, disarm, and incapacitate him.  They are deserving of all the accolades that I am sure will be forthcoming to them.

The second one may be a bit silly, but related to a phenomenon of which I was unaware--alas, until its unfortunate conclusion.  This was the death of "Batman of Route 29"--the one in Maryland.  A man with some extra funds and time on his hands tricked up his Lamborghini as a Batmobile, dressed the part, and went around doing good--for example visiting children's hospitals. The other day, his vehicle had some issue, he stopped on the highway in a somewhat unsafe way, and someone plowed into his car and killed him.  You can read his story further here.

Third is the courage of our great ex-President Jimmy Carter.  Carter taught me some hard lessons about having exccessively high expectations of what is possible from a Presidency which have helped me to understand and appreciate better the current Administration.  Though he wasn't my original first choice (Fred Harris, maybe?), I was happy to support him in the general election in my first voting experience, in the heady days of 1976;  I was foolish to desert him (for Independent John Anderson's candidacy) in 1980.  I won't say it wasn't a bitter experience for Carter, but he has been exemplary in how he has used the status of the office he held in the following 35 years to speak his mind, advocate for unpopular positions when necessary, and to accomplish great things through his charitable organization.  Best wishes for President Carter in his difficult medical battle.

Finally, I note the passing of one of the most impressive American political minds of the 20th century, Julian Bond.  I would say that I never heard him take a position on a policy that wasn't extremely well-informed, rational, eloquent, and possessed of the highest moral value.   Later on his career, I sometimes wondered what had become of him, but it seems that he was always out there, always saying the right things.  I salute his legacy.

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