Thursday, May 05, 2016

Norfolk Elects

What About 
Those Pesky Floods?

             In the Norfolk, VA, municipal elections on May 3, I voted with my fellow citizens in two out of three contests.
            In my home Ward 6 I voted for an innovative outsider, Andrea McClellan, to replace incumbent Barclay Winn on City Council. I came to that decision after I took an online preference test on a range of local issues. My preferences put me over 60% in line with Ms. McClellan, who unseated Winn and also defeated the third-place candidate, Warren Stewart, an educator.
            For school board in Ward 6 I had the choice between Noelle Gabriel, an incumbent, and Carter Smith, a business consultant. Gabriel has a day job as a pediatrician in a local children’s hospital. Where she finds the time to practice children's’ medicine, serve on the school board, and raise a family, too, is beyond me, but I voted for her, and she won over her opponent, 
business consultant Carter Smith, who seemed abrasive in his public comments and had no significant experience with education.
            But the main event of the night was the contest for mayor, an office vacated by the man who’s held it for 22 years. Until 2006 his office was appointed by City Council, but in 2008 Norfolk held its first mayoral election, which Fraim won by a large majority, becoming the city’s first elected mayor.
            As I understand local history, giving voters the choice of mayor was another step in the slow process of Norfolk’s liberalization from an oligarchy to something like a limited republican form of government where the oligarchs give up some small fraction of their power to assure social order.
            That era of transition from liberal oligarchy to limited populism, which Mayor Fraim oversaw, is over. Other, more diverse forces are in play now.
            Replacing Mayor Fraim is Kenny Alexander, a Norfolk native, presently a Virginia state senator, and not only the first new mayor in 22 years but the first African-American mayor in Norfolk history.
            I voted for Andy Protogyro on the basis of a televised candidates’ debate. I thought Protogyro, who presently sits on Council, seemed better prepared to be mayor than Alexander or Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe. Obviously, half of Norfolk disagreed with me.
            Half of Norfolk, it turns out, is 28%, which is twice the turn-out which reelected Fraim in 2014.
            Nevertheless, I’m happy with the peoples’ choice. It seems right to me, a positive step forward in Norfolk’s evolving image of itself as an international city, yet still American Southern to the bone.
            But what about sea-level rise? What about the human contribution to climate change? Will the incoming Mayor Alexander sacrifice his roots to the rising seas?
            Now that these candidates have been elected, maybe they’ll talk more about those less popular matters.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Election Day in Norfolk

Who Will the People Choose?
            Tuesday, May 3, is election day in Norfolk, VA. We’re voting for mayor, city council, and school board. All are significant. Paul Fraim has been Norfolk Mayor for 22 years, as long as I’ve lived here. Now he’s calling it quits. He wants to go back to private life.
Mayor Frain
            Three candidates are running to replace Fraim. As I ponder who to vote for, I ask myself: Which one do I think is most qualified to be the chief executive of a city I want to live in?
            On City Council, a long-time incumbent, solidly in the pro-business camp, is defending his Superward 6 seat against two challengers who wish to change the status quo, though not in the exact same ways. I live in Superward 6, so this conceivably matters to me.
           Finally, two candidates are running in Ward 6 for one seat on the school board. One is an incumbent, a pediatrician. The other is a successful local businessman who has three kids in Norfolk public schools. This is Norfolk’s first school board election. Previously, City Council appointed school board members. Many of Norfolk’s schools are on the state’s endangered species list, so who’s on the school board also matters.
            Most of the debate I’ve tuned into is about economic development. Creating the conditions to attract successful corporations to Norfolk is a priority. Improving Norfolk’s schools to provide a skilled work force for those corporations is part of that picture.
            But as everyone knows, Norfolk is second only to New Orleans as the East Coast city most vulnerable to rising seas caused by climate change. Yet climate change has hardly been mentioned by any of these candidates. Nor has the media asked much about it.
            How, I wonder, do these candidates expect to attract new business to Norfolk without a comprehensive plan, which does not now exist, on how to mitigate this basic threat to the city’s very existence?
            Perhaps it’s an Alice-in-Wonderland election. Perhaps the competing emperors have no clothes.
            But on the outside chance it’s serious, my curiosity is peaked. Who will we, the people of Norfolk, elect to lead us? How will my fellow citizens in this, my adopted city, vote?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Now That It's Becoming Clear....

Election 2016

Why Trump Could Win

           Now that it’s becoming depressingly clear that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic Party’s nominee in this November’s Presidential election, I’m no longer passionate about any candidate. I don’t say it doesn’t matter who wins, but neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump embraces my core values in any meaningful way. I’m free to look at this election without any personal bias beyond my own disappointment in the process.
            Still, there are uneasy forces afoot in the land that bear watching, and many of these forces attach to those who support the current front-runners and probable nominees of their respective parties.
            Donald Trump represents a large group of people—a number of whom are persuadable Democrats and Independents—who feel cut off from their patriotic roots in the American mythology that we are the greatest nation ever to rise upon the face of the Earth. To these folks—the demographers have identified them as largely white, under-uneducated, unemployed or under-employed males—Trump represents something different, something more muscular and shrewd and, maybe most importantly, inward-looking in a nationalistic sense. America first, and to hell with those who don’t like it.
            Hillary Clinton has said she wants to continue in the direction set by the policies of the Obama administration. She has also drifted quite a bit to the left of Obama in response to Bernie Sanders’ effective challenge to her presumed coronation. She has not, however, made it clear she will stay out there on the left, once Bernie is out of the competition. Her appeal to her party’s base, therefore, is ambiguous.
            Will the present Sanders supporters turn out for Hillary? As a Sanders supporter myself, I can’t say. My present instinct is to stay at home, but we’ll see what the campaign brings. I've always voted, and I suppose I will again.
            The thing is, who will Hillary attract? Her argument is that she will continue the legacy of Obama while adding on some of Bernie Sanders’ proposals, like relief for student loans, bringing corporate tax dodgers to heel, maybe even a tax on Wall Street transactions. But it’s sure to be more of the same on many fronts. The economy will still be rigged, elections will still be for sale, the morass in the Middle East will continue, and the red states will still think they are victims of a great conspiracy to take their country away from them. Hillary haters will compete for those audiences, and some will thrive.
            Meanwhile, Bernie’s political revolution of democratic socialism won’t go away. It may take another election cycle to realize itself, but the Democratic Party, as many have observed, is on the verge of its own nervous breakdown, similar to the breakdown of the Republican party establishment and the rise of the Trump phenomenon.
            In the meantime, though, the country may elect Trump, who is likely to make the case that electing Hillary is a throw-back to the past, while he is something new, a successful business magnate who knows how to make deals advantageous to himself and his interests. People like to hear that, especially if they’re disillusioned with the America they experience today compared to the American dream they were raised to believe in, one of opportunity and abundant reward for all who buckle down and work hard.
            In short, Trump offers change, however one feels about it. Hillary offers more of the same as if the same has been good. That’s a hard sell. Trump appeals to the gambler’s nature. Hillary favors the security of sameness, of the familiar. Yes, she’s a woman, and breaking the glass ceiling of the U.S. Presidency for women is no small thing, just as it was no small thing we elected Obama, our first African-American President. But victories need to be more than symbolic, and, given our times of multiple crises, there’s a widely shared feeling that we need substantive change. Like it or not, at this point in the process it looks as if Trump is the only candidate who offers that.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Thoughts on Super Tuesday Eve

The Real Issue Is Bernie

            I’m not so pleased about Bernie Sanders’ prospects in today’s Super Tuesday primaries. But the talk is that he’s looking to other states down the road where his chances are better, and Hillary’s current roll is not necessarily the final count. There still is hope.
           Bernie, meanwhile, came out with an unusual statement Monday about Trump, who is getting into more and more trouble with the Republican Party even as he’s leading in the Republican primary polls. Most recently he hedged on denouncing David Duke and the Klan. Mainstream Republicans are numb with impotence. They don’t know how to handle a front-runner who’s taking the party away from them and toward a nationalistic fever which is fascist, pure and simple. We’ve got a big-time capitalist billionaire luring the nationalistic vote with the promise to make America great again. He lost it Monday, in my opinion, when he choked in rage at some Black Lives Matter protesters who interrupted him at a town hall meeting. It was a disturbing scene, focused on Trump, all but red-faced as he ordered his bouncers to throw the protesters out of the hall, which they did.
            So it’s getting ugly among Republicans. But on the Democratic side, on Monday we had Bernie rejecting Trump utterly, saying Hate can never replace Love in the United States of America, or something close to that. It was, as my wife Jala said, an unusual statement from a politician of any party, and another reason why I remain stalwart in my support for Bernie, though I certainly will vote for Hillary in the general election, if it comes to that.
            The thing is, I worry that Hillary won’t be able to defeat Trump because Trump will galvanize all those who have never liked her. Are they numerous enough to offset the anti-Trump vote? I don’t know. No one knows. Everyone counts differently to their own advantage. I want to believe Bernie can win. I’ll settle for Hillary but have lower expectations, particularly in matters of war and peace and, I suppose, social wellness, which includes climate, health care for all, reining in polluters, taxing Wall Street transactions, expanding free, public education, etc.
            But who knows? Maybe she’d be a great President, maybe it’s her destiny. But that makes me feel bad for Bernie because I think he’s got the better platform—one that I’d like to see implemented. I’d like to see more opportunities open up and people get more relaxed about life, knowing that there’s a brighter future ahead for all of us, not just the few who beat their way to the top or are born into it.
            We live in times that have ceased to be just interesting. Increasingly they are terrible. Now one of America’s two major political parties is on track to nominate an imperial fascist dictator for President of the USA. The fear on one side is that he’ll destroy the Republican Party, but if they nominate him aren’t they the Republican Party?
             There’s also talk of someone jumping in. Bloomberg was mentioned but lately Mitt Romney’s emerged from the old guard, putting himself forward with anti-Trump tweets. Meanwhile, Rubio is pushing hard to be the Reagan Republican alternative to Trump, while Cruz keeps a toe hold of his own on ambition with his appeal to the Christian fundamentalists. Kasich hangs on as the reasonable traditional small-town Republican Rotarian who just wants people to calm down and listen to his voice of reason, which is pretty damn narrow once you get past the soothing tones and listen to what he’s saying. (Still, as governor of Ohio he took Medicaid expansion. He may be the best of the sorry lot.)
            Carson deserves mention as the Negro face of Republican success, but, despite his avowed determination to remain relevant, it’s hard to see him as a serious contender for the nomination. The same could be said, in fact, for Kasich, and probably Cruz, too—the evangelical base isn’t big enough to offset the nationalists, I suspect. Which leaves Rubio as the one most likely to unite Republicans in victory in November. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump tossed him to Christie to pulverize and feed to the alligators in the Everglades.
            The real issue is Bernie, who has the only pure vision of America left among Presidential candidates in this fateful Leap Year 2016. As we undergo change so rapid and multi-layered no one can keep track of it, why not aim high rather than low or fair-to-middlin’? It’s a question that’s been asked before, and usually—most of the time, in my experience—it’s answered on the safe side. But sometimes not. Sometimes there is a revolution, or, to put it more congenially, a spontaneous evolution.
            We need that. In my opinion, it should have happened fifty years ago. But now, we need it right quick.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Shout-Out to Congressman Rigell

“Read the Preamble!”

          In his last newsletter to constituents, my Congressional Representative, “moderate” Republican Scott Rigell, a wealthy Virginia Beach car dealer, discussed his reasons for supporting a debate and vote in Congress on whether the President should step up the war in Iraq and Syria against the renegade forces of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIL. (I refuse to dignify that group with the name “Isis,” mythic Goddess of the ancient Mideast.)
            His reasoning is that the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which gave the President the authority to wage certain acts of war without consulting Congress, has resulted in “executive over-reach,” meaning that the President is waging wars beyond the parameters set by the War Powers Resolution and therefore without the Congressional approval demanded by the Constitution.
            Leaving aside the politics of obstruction against President Obama, which has been Republican strategy for the past eight years, Rep. Rigell expressed a couple of common-sense points in his newsletter, given the sober reality of war and the disputable claim that it is necessary, if only as a “last resort”—whatever that means.
            He is certainly correct when he states that the Constitution requires Congressional authorization before the President can send Americans into war, though the War Powers Resolution relieves the President of that requirement under certain circumstances which Presidents have invoked since Vietnam and under which President Obama still operates in Iraq and Syria.
            He puts the burden on Congress for its inaction ten months after the President asked for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq and Syria.
            He notes that military commanders support an AUMF, which is an arguable point for authorization.
            But then, in his concluding point number 5, he says this: “The federal government’s number one responsibility is the protection of the American people.”

            This comment sent me back to the U.S. Constitution itself. Yes, I read the whole damn thing, and it’s not light reading. But in many instances it’s clear. And, indeed, Article I, Section 8 gives a lot of war-power authority to Congress, under the general principle in Section 1: “The Congress shall have pay the debts and provide for the defense and general welfare of the United States....”
            But Congress is only one branch of the federal government. There’s an Executive and there’s a Judicial. They each have their own sections under Article I, and I encourage the more studious to read them.
            My point, which I conveyed in an email to Rep. Rigell, is that his statement is inaccurate. The federal government is a combined Constitutional entity of three branches. And I argue that the purpose of the federal government is best expressed in the Preamble, one of our greatest founding documents, which, if you will, stands as the federal government’s mission statement:

            “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, secure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

            To me this clearly says that defense is only one of the federal government’s concerns. There are five others. And, indeed, they may all overlap to some extent, and they all need clarification, which the Constitution attempts to provide in 27 subsequent amendments. It’s an evolving document. We, hopefully, are an evolving society.
            But too many in Congress seem to think, as Rep. Rigell does, that defense is the primary responsibility of the federal government, and I’m saying that’s just not so. The Constitution is broader than that.
            In my opinion, ISIL, the most recent cause of our current war fever, is a criminal organization like al-Qaeda before it and in many ways not unlike the Mafia. Why we always have them in society is a topic for philosophers to sort out. But these are no armies at our shores, and I think our representatives should calm down and reaffirm ALL our national priorities, not just our great military might. They are elected to do more than declare and oversee wars, and perhaps if they paid more attention to their other primary responsibilities there would be fewer reasons to go to war and less bickering over who gets to declare it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Trump and Envy

Nov. 21, 2015--Journal Entry

            We’re coming into Thanksgiving week, one of my favorite times of the year. I love the sense of holidays approaching, and it all begins next week, or really now, the Friday night before.
            I watched a bit of Barbara Walters’ interview with Donald Trump on TV earlier. I think he’s popular because he’s a projection for most Americans of what they wish they could be—rich with a big family of attractive young descendants (to a few different wives) and a blunt way of speaking that ridicules all the people in power who nobody really likes and who half or more didn’t vote for. Didn’t even vote at all. Now Trump seems to be someone different. But mostly—my theory—they see him as an enviable figure. They identify with him through their own ambitions.
            Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe success in doing global business is the Aquarian model. I wouldn’t be surprised, actually. The world is always vulgar as well as splendid, and it may be that Trump is both. But if it’s Trump vs. Hillary next year, it will be hard for me to take the election seriously. Both are suspect in my mind. And unfortunately it looks as if Bernie is losing ground. That’s a shame because he’s the only one whose platform I really respect. For one thing, he’s clean. He comes from the heart, but he’s very up on the details. Soon I suspect his horoscope will become available, and more will be revealed. But his chances right now seem to be dimming.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Scamming Across Borders

Has This Ever Happened to You?

Epiphany at The HOC
by Jala Magik
            The first time it happened, my wife answered the phone. It was some guy from the IRS, he said, with a concern about some questionable reporting of our income which they needed to look into.
            This scared my wife—she does the taxes—which alerted me to pick up another phone and listen in. His accent was not American, but I couldn’t identify it. I heard him tell her that our difficulty could be resolved, he was sure, if we would go to the bank and put all our money in an account whose number he would give us. There it would stay until our records were cleared of suspicion, and we could have our money back. Possibly even in 24 hours.
            My wife was certainly not comfortable with this. Could she have the situation explained in writing? The man scoffed at her resistance, threatened reprisals if she wouldn’t cooperate. Did we want a law suit with the IRS?
            Now I was getting scared. I covered the receiver with my hand and called to my wife in the next room, “Hang up and call the bank.” She told him she was not going to cooperate any further. He seemed startled, said, “Who’s there? Why did you change your mind?”
            She hung up. We were both rattled and kinda pissed.
            We called the bank. They told us to rest easy, nothing like that was possible. The reassurance was soothing. But how did guy get her name and phone number?
            We considered reporting it, but to who? Police? This isn’t local, it’s possibly international.
            Our ongoing life soon covered it over. We had more interesting things to do than file a nuisance complaint.
            That was about two months ago. Today—Oct. 22 around 5 p.m. (EDT)—I answered the phone. A man with a non-American accent asked for my wife. I said she was not available. He said he was a technician from Microsoft with some urgent news about our Windows 10 computer. That’s my computer. He said it was in a dangerously vulnerable state which at some imminent moment would cause me irreparable damage, like massive identity theft, unless I followed his simple instructions.
            I was quite suspicious, but he was very insistent, and like most who use computers, I don’t know how they work. Yet I’m increasingly dependent on mine, and I know what it’s like when a computer crashes. It’s a hassle I don’t need.
            So I listened to what the guy had to say.
            He directed me to open some programs I didn’t even know were in my computer. It took awhile, because I couldn’t understand his accent very well, but he was very persistent and finally guided me to a small screen which had over 10,000 red-alert Error messages listed. This, indeed, looked dire to me, so after much back and forth on what I should click on, my friendly technician guided me to a screen where I was to type an internet address he gave me, and I typed it. Then he told me to click on open. 
            I should have written the address down. But it was like nothing I recognized, certainly not a Microsoft address. I saw him leading me to a website where he could get into my computer. He wanted to steal my information, not protect it, as he kept saying.
            I told the guy we were through, I thought he was a scammer, and I hung up. He called me right back, I picked up, and we had another short exchange of some heat, since it became obvious he didn’t know my name. He knew my wife’s name and assumed they were the same. But they’re not, and she has an iPad, not a Microsoft computer.
            Once I got all this clear in my mind, I hung up the second time and turned on the answering machine. Sure enough, he called again and threatened bad outcomes for thirty seconds until our machine cut him off with a beep. Good riddance to bad garbage, as we used to say.
            Later I looked more closely into what all those error messages are about. They seem like routine reports, a log of the machine’s actions when an error occurs in a program or online. I looked at a number of them randomly. They seem to be systemic, the result of unforeseen glitches in an increasingly complex technological environment. How does this put my computer at high risk?
            On the other hand, what is this information for? Who needs it, and for what?
            At least one thing is clear, though. My wife’s information has been breached. I don’t know enough about iPads to make a diagnosis, but she reminds me that her name is on the Verizon account. So if there’s a breach, is it at Verizon?