Genuflecting and the National Anthem

Last week Donald Trump tweeted 

Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable

This statement puzzles me. Though I am not a religious man, I was raised Roman Catholic. Lots of people make jokes about the transitions between sitting, standing, and kneeling that are part of the Catholic Mass being a strategy to keep worshippers awake throughout the service, but in fact gestures and physical actions have meaning in the Catholic Church, just they do in most faith traditions. A 2002 document from the Catholic Diocese of Worcester explains the significance of some of these gestures.  Continue reading

Presidential Behavior

Yesterday realDonalTrump tweeted, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

Dear Mr. President,

Regardless of how you feel about Judge James L. Robart’s ruling, or how incorrect you think it may be, you should show some respect, just as I have done you by referring to you as Mr. President.  I did not vote for you, and I am deeply concerned that you have acted against the best interests of our nation, perhaps even illegally in several actions you have taken since assuming office.  But I also recognize that you are the President because of your victory in the Electoral College, and the other of office you took in January.

You should show Judge Robart the same courtesy.  His not a “so-called judge”; he is a judge. To be precise, he is a US Federal Judge for the US District Court in Washington State, nominated by George W. Bush in 2003, and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2004. Ruling against your executive order does not abrogate this. He is and will remain a judge until he resigns, becomes incapacitated, or is impeached.

You must stop acting like a reality TV star. For better or worse, you are the President of the United States, now. It is not acceptable for you to personally attack a judge. I happen to think Judge Robart’s verdict was completely correct, and that he was right to put a stop on enforcement of your order.  I do not believe your order was constitutional. Moreover, it was sloppily and inhumanely executed. Nonetheless, I recognize that you have every right to use the bully pulpit the Presidency affords you to criticize the verdict.  You may launch a judicial challenge to the verdict, or call on the Congress to change the law so that your order will comply. But it is completely unacceptable that you challenge the legitimacy of the court simply because the judge disagreed with you.

Your criticism of the judge is completely consistent with your criticism of national icons, celebrities, law-makers, and even private citizens who disagree with your position.  That may have been effective for you in your business interactions, but it is not presidential behavior. No other president in my lifetime has proven as petulant, vindictive, and childish!



Is it only journalists who care about the President’s tax returns?

All traces of the Obama Administration and it’s agenda have been removed from the White House web site. The Wayback Machine indicates the same thing happened on January 22, 2009, so I suppose this is the norm, but it seems very strange to me.  Completely obliterating traces of the previous regime is something I’d expect from an authoritarian or totalitarian regime. In the US the Presidency changes hands, and it comes under the control of the leaders of opposing parties, but there is continuity in the office. Shouldn’t the White House web site better reflect this?

Perhaps the most strange to me is the removal of the petitions on the “We the People” page in the site, including petitions that had not yet reached their target.  There are already two new petitions, though. One calls on President Trump to immediately release his full tax returns, and the other calls on him to divest from or put in a blind trust all his business and financial assets. Both were added today, but as I write this, the petition calling for releasing his tax returns already has over 10,000 signatures.  Strange, since the President claims only journalists care about his taxes!

Now the Donald Trump is the President, it seems to me more urgent than ever that we know exactly what his financial interests are.


Are the Financial Reforms Designed to Prevent Another Banking Crisis in Jeopardy?

I will never understand why people say Republicans are good for the economy.  Historically it seems to me that the kind of laissez-faire deregulation they tend to advocate produces short term economic benefit for a few, with no real gains in productivity for the nation as a whole.  The gains are illusory, and when things collapse, the results are devastating.  I worry about what Republicans will try with such an overwhelming majority in Congress.  I hope the President and Congressional Democrats remain strong.

Below is the beginning of an excellent piece from Moyers & Company that adds to my doubts.  It’s worth reading.

Republicans and Wall Street Say To Hell With Protecting the Public!

January 17, 2015 by Bill Moyers

This post first appeared on

Since December, Congress has twice passed measures to weaken regulations in the Dodd-Frank financial law that are intended to reduce the risk of another financial meltdown.

In the last election cycle, Wall Street banks and financial interests spent over $1.2 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions, according to Americans for Financial Reform. Their spending strategy appears to be working. Just this week, the House passed further legislation that would delay by two years some key provisions of Dodd-Frank. “[Banks] want to be able to do things their way, and that’s very dangerous.” MIT economist Simon Johnson tells Bill.

“‘Here we go again’ — I think that’s exactly the motto, or the bumper sticker for this Congress. It’s crazy, it’s unconscionable, but that is the reality.”

Lawmakers are pinning these provisions to Dodd-Frank onto bigger must-past bills like spending measures that the president doesn’t dare veto.

Bill Moyers: The safeguards that Congress is tearing down, even as we speak, were put in place after the financial disaster of 2008 to prevent another one like it from happening. Why do you think the Republicans are trying to sabotage them?

Read his Simon Johnson’s response and the rest of the interview at the Moyers & Company site, where you’ll also find much more coverage of the issue.


Teen Birth Rate Here and There

from "Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing." Adolescent Health Topics. The Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12 Dec. 2014.

from “Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing.” Adolescent Health Topics/Reproductive Health. The Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12 Dec. 2014.

On Friday WBUR reported from Boston

The birth rate among teens in Massachusetts is at its lowest recorded level in the state’s history, a report out Friday says.

The birth rate of teens ages 15-19 fell 14 percent last year, from 14 births per 1,000 women in 2012 to 12 births per 1,000 women in 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Health reported.

“This is terrific news for all Massachusetts families, and a dramatic indication that our decisions to invest in our young people — through education, support and resources — can have a real and lasting impact on their lives and in their communities,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement.

Indeed, according to the Department of Health and Human Services,  the statistics on teenage birth rates were also terrific news for Massachusetts and for most of New England, New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota in 2011 when all those states already had rates below 20 births per 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 19.  They were the only ones, and they really stand out on the map. Continue reading

President Obama is Wrong About the Liberal Arts

Check out this article from Inside Higher Ed highlighting comments made by President Obama about the discipline of Art History.  It ends with a chart of politicians that have attacked liberal arts disciplines, only 4.  I’m pretty sure it could be much longer than it is.

This article by Virginia Postrel in Bloomberg argues that Art History was a particularly bad major for President Obama to use in his comparison, noting that it’s a major for the elite and that people who have degrees in Art History are wildly over-represented in the top 1% of wage earners.   Be that as it may, and whether he intended it or not, the President’s remarks were an implicit attack on liberal arts education in general.  I take exception to that.

I do agree with the first part of his statement.  It is possible to get a good, high-paying job without a college education.  They are decent jobs and if that is what you know you want to do, you should do it.  I see many people go to college who don’t need to, and arguably shouldn’t go, often accumulating debt working toward degrees they’re unable to complete, only to end up in a job they wouldn’t have needed it for. Continue reading

Failure to Fulfill the Obligations of Office

Breaking Down the Sequester Pie ChartIf, and it’s hard to see how they won’t, the “sequestrations” go into effect tonight, it will be a phenomenal act of cowardice on the part of Congress, particularly the Republicans, who will be getting the painful spending cuts they wants so badly, without having to make the necessary painful decisions who will be affected by those cuts.

Let’s review how the process works.

If Congress failed to produce a deficit reduction bill with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, then Congress could grant a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling but this would trigger across-the-board cuts (“sequestrations”), as of January 2, 2013. These cuts would apply to mandatory and discretionary spending in the years 2013 to 2021 and be in an amount equal to the difference between $1.2 trillion and the amount of deficit reduction enacted from the joint committee. There would be some exemptions: reductions would apply to Medicare providers, but not to Social Security, Medicaid, civil and military employee pay, or veterans. Medicare benefits would be limited to a 2% reduction. –“2013 Sequestration,” Wikipedia

Legislators don’t have any discretion with the across-the-board cuts: They are intended to hit all affected programs equally, though the cuts to individual areas will range from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent (and 2 percent to Medicare providers). The indiscriminate pain is meant to pressure legislators into making a budget deal to avoid the cuts. –“The sequester explained,” The Washington Post

If you are a fiscal conservative applauding this because you say that at last government is being forced to make cuts across the board, ask yourself it standards like efficiency, return on investment and the amount of waste in a program matters? Shouldn’t we cut programs that are less efficient or have more waste more than others? Sequestration defies that logic.

If you are a bleeding heart liberal like me, you’re concerns are more about impact. Let’s save programs that address real needs and cut programs that benefit those who are more likely to be able to replace them with alternative sources of revenue. Maybe we don’t need to spend so much on corporate welfare or assisting with research into commercially viable pharmaceuticals or technologies, and more on assistance to those who need it.

Shouldn’t criteria like that matter? Moreover, the fact is that the long term health of our economy requires additional revenue. Even most conservative economists admit this.

And so it is reasonable to suspect the refusal to compromise is largely political. Be able to claim you stood up to the president on tax increases, get your cuts, and not have to explain to constituents why the program that helps them or their loved ones was on the block! It’s politics at it’s worst because it’s not just rhetorical, constituents will actually suffer.

I, for one, am appalled!

The Absurdity of Drug Testing Welfare Recipients w/o Cause

This image has been making the rounds of social media and popped up on the walls of some of my friends today.  These services don’t have -1 or dislike buttons, but I dislike. I dislike it very much!

The post argues workers in regular jobs are tested, so welfare recipients should be, too. Well I don’t think random drug testing should be required for those who are fortunate enough to be employed, either. I had been taught that a basic, fundamental precept of our legal system has been that we are a country in which everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and protection from unnecessary search and seizure.  Our rights as free, independent citizens were to be infringed on only in the most dire, necessary circumstances. In my opinion, random drug testing should be permitted only for workers in jobs where public safety is dependent on their sobriety.  I’m not convinced that other employers have a right to test at all unless there is demonstrable reason to do so, either in terms of the nature of the position or in terms of job performance. If an employee does an impeccable job at work and is always there when he should be, what does it matter that he has lost every weekend for the past year due to drug induced blackouts. I do not believe a big brother state, let alone a big brother employer.

Let’s also remember who we’re proposing to test.
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Why I Worry About Turnout

On the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer just made the point that no matter what the polls say, everything ultimately depends on voter turnout, and that Republicans have been better with turning out their supporters in recent elections.  This really worries me.  I am not registered with a party but I am, philosophically, a liberal.  I believe put those policies are best for America and so I nearly always vote Democratic.  But I must confess that in this election my interests are also personal.

I worry Republican advances in Congress will jeopardize aspects of the new health care law.  Provisions of the law are still coming into effect, so many people don’t realize how beneficial it is. Rollbacks will have minimal impact on me as a resident of Massachusetts, but I spent last year in another state and I can assure you, this system is better. I’m still cleaning up some of the financial mess from an inadequate insurance plan last year.

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