Truth, Justice, and the American way. TRUTH: Helping to correct people's misconceptions about history, science, and the state of the world. JUSTICE: Meant in the biblical sense. Fair treatment of other people, rational laws, and assisting the disadvantaged. THE AMERICAN WAY: A classless society where everybody has an opportunity to meet their potential and for economic advancement, regardless of race, ancestry, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Balanced Look at Recent US Presidents - part 1

I got the idea for this blog entry while watching the independent film "Hating Obama".

44. President Barack Obama (Barack Hussein Obama II)
Moderate Democrat

  • The least effective president since Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge.
  • Did not achieve enough during his first two years. The best presidents submit bills to accomplish their most important goals during their first four to six months in office. Historically, the opposition party usually gains seats in the house and senate during midterm elections, so the beginning of a presidency is the time to push legislation.
  • Could not find ways to push compromise legislation through congress and the senate. Presidents like Reagan are beloved because they used the "Bully Pulpit" of the presidency to rouse ordinary people and force legislation through.
  • Did not manage to get judges and cabinet members approved in the senate in a reasonable time (30 days maximum for a cabinet member, 60 days maximum for a supreme court justice).
  • Did not reverse his predecessor's mistakes quickly enough. Even the changes that allowed the "Great Recession" (the depression of 2008) have not all been addressed.
  • Racism became more public and louder than it had been since the 1970's.
  • Will leave office with a ruthless invasion in Iraq and Syria (the Kaliphate, also known as DEASH, ISIL, ISIS, or the Islamic Nation).
  •  A concerted lobbying campaign to block all nominees and legislation by the Republican Party leadership, funded by huge political contributions.
  • Traditionally, after the election and 100 days after the oath of office, there is a honeymoon period between the new president and the opposition, so that both parties can learn more about the new president. President Obama suffered severe criticism and even investigations regarding his constitutional qualification to be president during this period. In the past, all such personal attacks stopped on election day.
    • People argue whether this is because of racial prejudice, the more aggressive corporate driven news media, his policies, extortion of legislators, or the fact that President Obama was the first president in 24 years who was not a conservative.
  • Twice during his presidency, the congress did not pass budget legislation soon enough to keep the government funded and operating.
  • Inherited major wars in Asia Minor. A guerrilla force replaced the regular armies after the US withdrew.
  • Although the Democratic party controlled the House of Representatives during his first half term, the Democratic majority in the Senate was not large enough for cloture (closing debate and filibusters on a bill) which requires 60 votes. The modern senate rule allowing a filibuster to continue, even when the person is not in the senate chamber makes infinite filibusters possible. The old rule required that a filibustering senator continually speak while the senate was in session.
  • Took office with the worst US economy since the 1930's and brought the economy back to stability, if not health.
  • Pushed through halfhearted national health care laws that allowed most of the middle class who could not obtain health insurance to obtain such insurance.
  • Increased the minimum wage.
  • Withdrew the US from the wars in Persia (Iraq and Afghanistan),
  • Fought for sexual equality (gender and sexual orientation), especially in the military.
  • Began reducing the US reliance on fossil fuels, especially foreign fossil fuels.
  • Increased the US military use of technology to replace soldiers on the ground.
  • Decreased the US military's use of mercenaries.
43: President George W Bush (George Walker Bush) Highly Conservative Republican
  • Abused executive power hundreds of times.
  • Was personal friends with the Saudi Arabian royal family, who fund terrorism (and one of whom led a terrorist organization).
  • The worst foreign invasion since World War II occurred on September 11, 2001 in his first year as president. The invasion was funded by Saudi Arabia and the soldiers were trained in Afghanistan and the US.
  • Lied to Congress about the origins of the attack.
  • Embroiled the US in a hopeless war against religious backed revolutionaries in Afghanistan.
  • Lied to Congress about the existence of nuclear weapons in Iraq, embroiling the US in a war that toppled a corrupt regime, but left the country in chaos that the US could not control.
  • Increased the US military reliance on for-profit corporations and mercenaries.
  • Increased the US reliance on imported fossil fuels.
  • Authored and or signed bills to cut necessary support for the poor, military veterans, and other social programs.
  • More than tripled the US government debt by funding foreign US military fighting and peacekeeping outside the official US budget. Lied to congress about actual costs. 
  • Forced service extension of soldiers beyond their contracted service.
  • Authored legislation and regulations that cut severely into individual rights (4th through 6th amendments).
  • Pushed surprise "corporate gift" legislation through congress when less than half of the legislature was in town.
  • Responsible for most of the government errors that led to the Great Recession (Depression of 2008).
    • Suppressed responsible government oversight of corporations. Building on presidential failures since 1981.
    • Encouraged "sub-prime" lending to allow the poor to buy homes that they could not afford.
    • Blocked Justice Department attempts to prosecute irresponsible corporate management.
  • The "No Child Left Behind" program was supposed to improve public education and reduce drop-out rates. It had the opposite effect.
  • Because Bush appointed unqualified cronies to head some departments, emergency response after Hurricane Katrina was delayed and inappropriate. The Mississippi delta region is still recovering. The problems were made much worse because necessary domestic infrastructure improvements (such as reinforcing levees) were skipped (most of the Army Corps of Engineers was in Iraq and Afghanistan).
  • Unexpected terrorist style military attacks.
  • The Great Recession
  •  Better integration of government data collection between agencies.
42: President Bill Clinton  (William Jefferson Clinton) Conservative Democrat

  • Lied to congress about his sexual relations with federal employees. Was indited by the House of Representatives, but the Senate never took up the Impeachment debate. A special prosecutor was appointed. President Clinton pled no contest on the charge of lying to congress in return for probation plus temporary disbarment. The constitution prohibits criminal charges against a sitting president (except by the impeachment process), so the official date of the plea was the day after he left office. This was not his first womanizing scandal.
  • Set up a task force to define comprehensive health care and implement a "Health Care for All" program. The task force was led by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The bill failed to obtain any traction in Congress.
  • Repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. This act prohibited banks (insured by the FDIC) from merging with corporations that made risky investments. This eventually led to the Great Recession (the Depression of 2008).
  • Signed the NAFTA treaty and pushed it through the senate. This treaty was the template for future trade agreements. This treaty eliminated almost all tariffs between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.. The result was corporations moving manufacturing and engineering jobs out of the US. Job export has led to widespread unemployment and underemployment in the US.
  • Entered office during a recession.
  • The laws implementing the illogical economic theories of President Ronald Reagan.
  • The longest era of  peacetime economic expansion in US history.
  • Restructuring the federal government to eliminate waste and moving people where they were needed (a special project of V.P. Gore). 
  • Negotiated a federal budget with annual surpluses each of his last three years.
  • Welfare reform that provided more support for people returning to work.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Comments on Bernie Sander's Agenda for America

Comments on Bernie Sander's Agenda for America

I agree with Bernie Sanders, but have many comments for him.

The Agenda for America is a summary of how Senator Sanders sees the US digging out of the mess that the right wing has created in this country over the past 35 years. Senator Sanders is the only Progressive (Liberal) candidate for President this year, and the only candidate with no huge skeletons in his closet.

The headings are from Senator Sanders document, but I have left out his more detailed description and introduced my comments.

1. Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure

1a) A large part of our infrastructure (at least for the bottom 30% of earners) is public transportation. All major cities (metropolitan areas and cities over 50 square miles) should have 24 hour public transportation. Each "route" (bus or train) should run at least once per hour every day, all day and at least once every 15 minutes during peak hours.

1b) In Los Angeles and many other cities, many of us cannot take public transport to work, because most buses and trains only run during peak hours.

1c) Every scheduled public transportation "run" should be considered a contract with the people in the community. Many cities deliberately skip runs when drivers call in sick, a bus breaks down, or sometimes just for budgetary reasons. This should be illegal. Substitute drivers and backup buses should restore service quickly.

1d) As part of moving the nation away from fossil fuels and improving public transportation, the Federal government should 50-50 fund match public transportation improvements.

2. Reversing Climate Change

It has taken us many years to add the greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere and oceans. It will be at least 20 more years before what we have already released stops changing our weather. We are late to the game, but better late than never. Some candidates still refuse to admit that humans are responsible for climate change or that the carbon dioxide we have already released might kill off many ocean species by dissolving their shells.

3. Creating Worker Co-ops

We already have many worker co-ops in this country. They are formally called mutual corporations. The SBA and IRS should improve support for formation and growth of mutual corporations (companies owned by either its employees or its customers). Many banks used to be mutual corporations. Farm coops, unions, and guilds are coops. AAA and Blue Shield are mutual corporations (separate corporations in each state or region).

4. Growing the Trade Union Movement

The legislation the senator recommends is already the law, however there are other steps to take.

Every employee group is already allowed by law to lobby each employee and vote for a union outside of that employee's work hours. Employers should be penalized attempting to block union formation for employee lockouts and other union busting tactics. The penalty for locking out (or firing) an employee for union action should equal each employee's lost wages. If after the first union contract, a new contract between an employer and a union cannot be worked out, then the existing contract continues in effect, adjusted by COLA since the previous contract agreement (for COLA not otherwise covered)

4a) Except for active military, all government workers (local, state, or federal) should be represented by a union. Government agencies must negotiate in good faith and negotiated pay and benefits should be guaranteed, regardless of budget. Federal funding to states should be determined 3 years in advance and not subject to change due to federal budget changes. Failure to pass a federal budget by July 1 (for the fiscal year beginning in September) should continue the old budget adjusted for COLA until 60 days after a budget is passed. State budgetary promises to localities and special districts should be two years in advance and have the same restrictions.

5. Raising the Minimum Wage

Raising the minimum wage to $15 over a period of years is not a permanent solution. By the time the national minimum wage is increased to $15 after 5 years, the cost of living will have increased another 30%. This minimum wage increase is a stop-gap to fix the escalation of poverty over the past few years. The minimum wage has to be 1/2000 of the urban annual Poverty Level for a one worker family of three. This would automatically impose cost of living adjustments (COLA).

6. Pay Equity for Women Workers

6a) This does not go far enough. Equal pay for equal work should apply to all employees, not just women. To make this work, wages, benefits, bonuses, and salaries should not be secret.

6b) Harassment, unfair treatment, and similar complaints against employers should receive initial review  and be recorded by an independent arbitration judge. The arbitration judge may recommend a wait and see, full arbitration, civil suit, or police action. The arbitration judge shall act as a special master, privy to all company records.

7. Trade Policies that Benefit American Workers

Low tariffs, favored nation status and uninspected imports should be eliminated. Tariffs should be normalized over a 5 year period. Customs inspection should be improved within the first year by moving personnel from ATF and DEA. Every nation should pay the same tariff for the same item, except for cases of dumping (deliberately attempting to push US companies out of business by charging an unreasonably low price). A separate inspection fee should be charged, depending on the difficulty of inspection, the level of criminal control of the nation of origin, and terrorist threat from that nation.

7a) Only investments in US companies should be eligible for the Capital Gains tax credit. A US company should be headquartered in the US and not be a subsidiary of a company that is not a US company. A US company should have majority ownership that are US citizens and permanent residents. A US company should hire a majority of its employees and a majority of its management who are US citizens and permanent residents. A US company should not import more than half of what it sells (excluding raw materials), measured based on the percentage of price charged to the customer.

7b) Companies doing business in the US should be required to pay all of their workers at least the equivalent of the US minimum wage. Companies who do not pay their non-US workers the equivalent of the US minimum wage should pay increased import duties to cover half of the difference in pay.

8. Making College Affordable for All

College for all is not the answer to making the US more competitive in the world market. What we need is to bring out each person's potential, regardless of what that is. This means an overhaul of theories behind modern K-12 education as well as making college affordable for those whose potential would be elevated in that environment.

8a) "Free" college education should only apply to public and non-profit colleges and only for students who are citizens or have begun citizenship classes or will begin taking citizenship classes their next semester (citizenship classes should be offered by every public college). No federal aid should be offered to students at for-profit colleges. However, for-profit colleges should be contracted to offer vocational training in specific areas where jobs are hard to fill.

8b) All students graduating their in the top 5% of their high school class should have tuition and fees paid, regardless of their family's net worth. Depending on need, other financial aid should be offered for books, transportation, and living expenses.

8c) Student loans are a severe problem and should never be use to cover tuition or fees.

8d) Students who cannot afford to pay tuition, fees, books, and living expenses on campus or near campus should be given sufficient financial aid to cover those expenses. Near campus means that 24 hour public transportation is available with a total walking distance of under 2 miles each way. Financial aid should be offered on a sliding scale based on the student's net worth and a formula based on the parent's income above twice the poverty level (if the student an parents are not estranged).  Work study should be offered to all students needing assistance (at least after the Freshman year). The amount that scholarships reduce financial aid should only apply to financial aid not allocated to tuition and fees.

8e) Payments for existing and future student loans should be limited to annual repayment of 10% of after tax earnings and 5% maximum annual interest (non-compounded).

8f) Tuition and fees should be paid for community college for all citizens and permanent residents in citizenship classes or who will take citizenship classes at the community college.

8g) Eligibility for financial aid in universities and 4 year colleges should be limited to students in the top third of their high school class or those who have earned an community college degree.

8g) Beginning with 10th grade, vocational education should be available to any student who is not taking college preparation course and can read (English), write (English), and do arithmetic at the 8th grade level and speak English at the 6th grade level. All vocational education programs should include Critical Thinking training and training in using the internet to learn more in their field. Vocational education programs should be coordinated with unions, gilds and professional associations when that is available.

9. Taking on Wall Street

We must change the rules to force the largest firms and the monopolists to break themselves up.

9a)j A new FDIC rule that companies receiving any FDIC insurance may only make B or better investments and may not own or issue derivatives should be part of your first 45 day plan. A new SEC rule that corporate board members and C-level management are individually and collectively responsible for all illegal actions of the corporation or any of its subsidiaries should be part of your first 100 day plan (not removing responsibility for specific managers). New Department of Labor and SEC rules allowing stock as  incentives to employees, but  prohibiting derivatives (including company options) as incentives should be part of the 45 day plan. Regulation of derivatives and grade D or below bonds should be part of the first year plan.

9b) The federal government should only loan (or guarantee loans) to companies that qualify for small business status, except for states, government contractors (including colleges) and non-profit organizations.

9c) Any person who directly or indirectly supervises 10 or more other people should be considered management and have legal oversight responsibilities over the people who are supervised. All non-management salaried employees should be compensated for time worked over 85 hours in any 2 week period. Overtime pay for hourly employees should be 1.5 times normal time for the 41st through 60th hour in a 7 day period and 2 times normal pay for hours 61 to 90 and 3 times normal pay for any hours 91 or over in a 7 day period. If the worker works on a holiday during the 7 day period, hours 41-60 are paid double time, 61-90 are paid triple time and hours 91 or over are paid quadruple time.

9d) A new Conflict of interest bill should be submitted in the second 100 days that prohibits a legislator from voting on a bill directly affecting any company that donated over 5% to the legislator's campaign (directly or indirectly). All government employees, including legislators, judges, and military personnel should be required to avoid employment conflict of interest. This includes not working for a company (or any subsidiary of any parent company) for two years after leaving full-time government employment if the employee acted on a decision affecting the company (a bill or regulation vote, advising a superior regarding a bill or regulation vote, or any similar activity). No federal employee shall act on a decision affecting a company that the federal employee was employed by within two years after leaving that company's employ.

9e) All products purchased by the federal government must have at least two competing providers (all patents and copyrights must be licensed to a second company). Any company or organization doing business with the federal government shall provide products or services to the federal government at the most advantageous terms and pricing. In addition to normal procurement procedures, this includes Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration. This means drugs and medical services provided through these agencies (and others) shall be at the lowest price charged to any buyer, foreign or domestic.

9f) A suggested new bill for the first year. Any company with over one billion dollars in total value which performs over 33% of the business in any area shall be deemed a monopoly. Violation should be subject to a penalty of 1/12% of total company value monthly for the first year (value is market capitalization or total ownership investment or book value plus 10 times the average annual sales over the past three years), Penalties double each year until the comp[any no longer qualifies as a monopoly or files papers with the SEC to divide the company and reduce its share of business in any area to under 20%.

10. Health Care as a Right for All

We need to do more than provide Medicare for all. We must redefine medicare into a system that concentrates on preventive care and extends to complete care (beyond just health insurance).

10a) Medicare for all will not work well unless there are no premiums and no deductibles. There should be no copayments for preventive or necessary health care. The health care should be comprehensive, covering every procedure, materials, and medications required for good health except for the requirements for normal life (food, beverages, shelter, clothing, entertainment, bed, bedding, normal soap and shampoo, home upkeep, and cosmetics should be excluded). Comprehensive health care includes more than what covered under most medical insurance.

10b) All preventive and restorative health care (medical procedures, tests, and prescribed medications, including prescribed over the counter medications) should be paid for by Medicare with no copayment (including but not limited to drugs and treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid or cholesterol imbalance, pain management, or weight loss when obesity is contributing to or threatening a serious medical condition. Among other care often left out of health care plans, dental, hearing, and vision care and restorative procedures (including eyeglasses, refraction surgery, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and dental care) should be covered.

10c) Birth control, erectile dysfunction and similar treatment should have no more than a 10% copayment. Cloning, gamete or zygote storage, and in vitro fertilization probably should not be covered. Abortion (especially in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother) in the first 25 weeks should be covered, but that would be something that might be lost in compromise.

10d) All treatment and equipment required to improve the quality of life for a disabled person should be covered. Addiction treatment, including followup treatment with a psychologist as often as necessary to prevent relapse should be covered. NGOs such as Planned Parenthood and Alcoholics (and others) Anonymous should be reimbursed for costs that would otherwise be paid for by government programs (including administrative costs).

10e) Hospice, care in a nursing home, day nursing home care, and home care should be covered. This includes home intravenous infusions, home dialysis, and other frequent medical procedures that are suitable for care in these locations. Visiting nurses and checks by social services personnel should also be covered. A housebound person should receive a wellness check at least once every 30 days.

10f) Ambulance services and medical rescue services should be covered. Reconstructive surgery, and surgery to prevent or help heal infections should be covered.

10g) As facilities allow, all federal prisoners charged or convicted of drug crimes with no history of violence should be provided with anti-addiction care and evaluated for early parole.

10h) Putting drugs in the correct "schedules" instead of Nixon's and Reagan's politically driven scheduling and providing inexpensive, legal oral forms of most abused drugs, while also providing a better rehabilitation system would result in great improvements. Price and "increased tendency to commit crime" is not part of the definition of the drug schedules, but drugs have been scheduled based on these criteria since the Nixon administration and this should be remedied. This includes moving THC. cannabinol and a standardized cannabis to schedule 3 (normal prescriptions). Foods containing cannabis but less than 1% THC should be schedule 4 (behind the counter). Drugs that are highly physically addictive and prevent a normal life should be in schedule 1. Drugs that are highly addictive, but do not prevent a normal life or drugs that are psychologically but not physically addictive should be schedule 2. Oral cocaine and amphetamines should be schedule 2. Oral birth control, morning after birth control and similar drugs that prevent zygote implantation should be schedule 4.

10i) Provider reimbursement will have to be increased 30-40% to make up for increases in the cost of providing medical care that congress has not matched (missed COLAs and increases in insurance and office costs). This increase can be reduced if malpractice insurance is assumed by the federal government (as in many other nations). If the government assumes malpractice insurance, then a national medical liability law will have to be included that protects the government from all but compensatory damages.

Notes about Law Enforcement

Elimination of the federal death penalty could save several million dollars per year. Vocational training, medical treatment, and early release of non-violent drug users should pay for the addiction treatment program.

Putting drugs in the correct "schedules" instead of Nixon's and Reagan's politically driven scheduling and providing inexpensive, legal oral forms of most abused drugs, while also providing a better rehabilitation system would allow  great improvements in US law enforcement.

Elimination of the cost of law enforcement against drug users and allowing the prescription of oral forms of opiates, amphetamines, and hallucinogens will save uncounted lives annually and many billions of dollars.

This will allow the DEA to be merged into customs and the FBI to better inspect imports and increase the reach of anti-terrorism intelligence. Police would be freed to better watch for violent crime. Merging the parts of the NSA and CIA that monitor US citizens into the FBI domestic anti-terrorism unit would remove roadblocks that have caused important information to be missed. The weapons tracking part of the ATF should also be merged into the FBI domestic anti-terrorism unit. The rest of the ATF should be part of the Treasury department and assuring that taxes on drugs are collected could be merged with the Secret Service or IRS.

Changing the rules of engagement for law enforcement could greatly increase the public's trust in law enforcement and save many lives. I use the word Officer below, but this applies to all law enforcement. Helpful changes include:
A) Law enforcement should not have a lethal round chambered in a semi-automatic handgun. No cartridge should normally be chambered until an officer's non-dominant hand is raised to aim the gun. Revolvers should not be cocked until the officer's non-dominant hand is raised to aim the gun. Training officers to quickly prepare the weapon to fire while aiming is customary in many countries. As an alternative, a less-lethal round could be chambered (a paint filled wad-cutter shaped bullet would be ideal, it would cause a lot of pain but rarely cause critical harm, visibly mark the suspect, convince the suspect that the officer is not bluffing, and would eliminate about half of accidental killings by police). When a suspect begins to reach for or direct a weapon, the officer's first response should be to duck and cover, not shoot first.
B) Law enforcement should never lie to people, except to enable undercover investigations. Undercover investigations should require a warrant. Lying about what another suspect said, providing false documents, making false promises, or even implying things that are not true violate the rights of the person being questioned (even if the courts allow it). The federal questioning guidelines from the DOJ should designate information obtained by falsehood as inadmissible, but allow investigation based on the information.
C) Witnesses should not be transported to the police station for questioning unless there is evidence that the witness should be treated as a suspect or the witness wants a private place to talk. Transporting an unwilling witness is unlikely to elicit the truth. Intensive questioning (such as the Reid technique) is more effective at eliciting false information than the truth.
D) A person should not be considered a person of interest because of race, religion, dress, sexual orientation, political orientation, the fact that the person has tattoo or piercings, the places the person frequents, old known associations (over a year old), prior bad acts, or any other information that would not be allowed as evidence for a warrant. I know it is a catch 22 for the police that it is hard to find real evidence without having real evidence, but that is the way people work.
E) Refusing to answer questions or to stop answering questions at any time is a constitutional right and police must not allow that to prejudice their investigation.
F) Around 10,000 people give false confessions each year in the US. Before presenting a confession to a judge as an admission of guilt, the police should build a case that would not require the confession.
G) People should be able to think of police as first responders. Every police car should carry epinephrine-pens (for extreme allergic reactions), Atropine-pens (first response for nerve agents, such as black widow spider bites or some snake bites, or botulism poisoning), and Opiate-Counter-Agent pens. Officers should receive training in the use of these and in CPR in the academy and refreshers at least once every three years. Every police car should also carry two fire extinguishers (for small fires).
H) Police officers should receive negotiation training and anger management training (similar skills to negotiation training). In many police departments, this is part of academy training, but it should be repeated at least once a year.
I) Every officer should participate in local events in the area they patrol. People have to see that police are real people with the same emotions as other people. Walking a beat on occasion also helps.
j) The perception of police violence is a serious problem. Police departments have to work to avoid officers being seen to throw non-resisting people against a car or wall. Police departments have to work with the media to change the perception of police officers.

About Me

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Canoga Park, California, United States
Software Engineer with Ph.D. in Computer Science. I have a deep background in the sciences and in computer-human interaction. I was a college professor for 11 years, followed by over a decade of work in industry.